Family-friendly festivals

Deer Shed and Just So have put to bed the idea that festival-going parents could only dump their kids on an inflatable castle while they sank a few pints and listened to jangly guitars in a field

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“If you go to watch a Pixar movie with your children, everyone has a great time. Not just your kids – everybody. Their films appeal to all generations and most backgrounds, without being dumbed down. Some of it may go over the kids’ heads while the parents are laughing theirs off, and vice versa, but no one will leave feeling short-changed. That’s the key to creating a truly family festival too.”

Prior to establishing Deer Shed, the family festival of music, arts and science in North Yorkshire, Oliver Jones and his wife Kate had taken their kids to many cultural events that purported to be family friendly but in reality, he says, only had “a cordoned-off section of the event with a plastic ball pit and some soft play where you could ditch the kids.

“When an event was designed with kids in mind, programming would usually be so dumbed down that no parent in their right mind could ever feel properly inspired by it.”

Jones wanted to create a child-friendly utopia of progressive live performances, art and activities that would bridge this gap while saying no to children’s areas. “Kids aren’t zoo animals,” he points out.

Deer Shed celebrates its 10th year in 2019 and Jones says he truly believes the music headliners are all at the top of their game right now.

“I’m quietly confident that Anna Calvi, Ezra Furman and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever will all put on the shows of their lives,” he says. The comedy line-up is bigger than previous years too, with PG funnies coming from Reginal D Hunter, Nina Conti, Milton Jones and rising star Kiri Pritchard-McLean.

“Away from the major stages, Fontaines DC are sure to pull one of the biggest crowds of the weekend,” says Jones. “And Akala and Richard Herring headline our literary line-up, both of whom I could sit and listen to all day.

“But it’s the more off-the-wall bookings that usually turn out the best. Kapow Wrestling will be running wrestling workshops, before showcasing championship matches in the sports arena each evening. That could be one we’ll still be talking about in years to come!”

Jones has learnt a few lessons over a decade of Deer Shed programming. “Create a site that is accessible for all and curate your shows, activities and spectacles with both little and large in mind,” he says. “Some kids might not be into music or arty stuff, and that’s fine.” At Deer Shed, those kids can run off some steam in the sports arena, get hands on in the science tent or learn some bushcraft skills in the site’s woodland belt.

“Oh, and clean toilets. That’s a biggie.”

Deer Shed 10 is on 26-28 July, Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire (deershedfestival.com) 

Owl, fox, frog, stag, lion, bee or fish?

“We loved festivals, camping and the arts but more and more as we took our children along to music festivals it felt quite divisive,” says Sarah Bird, co-founder of family arts festival Just So. “There was lots of splitting up the family whilst one of the adults headed to the main stage and the other took the kids to do some low-level craft activities in a corner of the field.

“We wanted something that felt inclusive for the whole family and where more or even all of the ticket money was being spent on family arts rather than the majority on the music headliners.”

Bird, a mother of three and former bookseller, teamed up with her friend, illustrator Rowan Hoban, to create a solution. Just So Festival
was it and in 2019 the Macclesfield-based pair will host the 10th instalment.

On the Footlights stage there’ll be poet, comic, singer and ukulele player John Hegley, energetic nine-piece the Zing Zong Allstars, the Baghdaddies’ fusion of Caribbean grooves and Middle Eastern rhythms (with a Geordie flavour) and the Hallé Children’s Choir, which is also celebrating its 10th birthday.

Theatre includes Over The Moon – a first opera for little people – while Without Walls will present five pieces of outdoor dance and circus. There’ll be a Just So cinema, lots of authors in the Wonderland area, dancing in the Flamingo Lounge and new areas – the Fire Garden, the Garden of Delight and the New Curiosity Shop.

Just So is underpinned by the Tribal Tournament, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s animal characters from the Just So Stories from which the festival takes its name. Families dress up as different animal clans and compete to win golden pebbles, culminating in the crowning of the Tribal Tournament champions. Many come prepared but this year families can prepare their costumes on site with Wintercroft, a family-run design company known for helping people make fantastical animal masks from sustainable materials.

Just So is on 16-18 Aug, Rode Hall, Cheshire (justsofestival.org.uk) 

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