To be completely accessible and inclusive, Circus Starr realised that it had to improve one of the least glamourous aspects of its set-up - its toilets. Sarah Hall tells the story.
Here at Circus Starr we pride ourselves on being three things: accessible, inclusive and fun. Thanks to the support of local businesses in each town we visit, we are able to distribute free tickets, giving vulnerable and disabled children, and most importantly those with profound multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), a chance to make memories they can cherish for a lifetime.
Feedback from audiences told us that if there was any way we could improve their experience it would be by introducing Changing Places toilet facilities
We are lucky that our starry big top automatically creates a magical and relaxed environment and transforms our audience to another world. A world where it is easy to escape from the various difficulties people may be facing, and where they can completely be themselves.
There are various ways in which we make our show more inclusive. At all our performances the volume is lower, there are no fast flashing lights and you are welcome to dance and shout out. In 2015 we won a National Autistic Society Autism Professional Award for the Show & Tell app we produced for children with autism.
Yet no matter how hard we try, we know there is more to do. So, this autumn we turned our focus to what is admittedly the least glamourous - but arguably also one of the most important - aspects of our set-up: the toilets.
Feedback from audiences told us that if there was any way we could improve their experience it would be by introducing Changing Places toilet facilities. According to the Changing Places campaign, there are over a quarter of a million people in the UK who would require a Changing Places toilet to enable them to go out and enjoy day-to-day activities. That’s a huge audience that we could be excluding by not having the correct facilities available.
Standard and disabled toilets aren’t enough to meet the needs of all disabled people or those with PMLD. The campaign advises that among other things a toilet should have equipment including a hoist and a changing bench, enough space in the changing area for a disabled person and their carers, and be a safe and clean environment.
Therefore we needed to find a way of getting the right facilities - those that would make people feel comfortable when coming to our events. As we move location every other day, we knew what our first hurdle was going to be. Unlike a theatre, a circus doesn’t have a fixed location and there wasn’t an option to have toilet units that we could modify.
In our search we found it was possible to have self-contained units on vehicles, making them portable. The units provide professional equipment along with space and privacy. Each hire also comes with an attendant who maintains the facility, which prevents any stress being placed on event teams.
Having found the answer, the next challenge was funding - an application to the National Lottery Awards For All funding stream proved successful.
Satisfying a big demand
We have now had these toilet facilities on the road for the last three months, and the demand for them has proved bigger than we could have ever imagined, with just over 700 people taking advantage of the unit at our shows. We will now always tour with Changing Places facilities and are confident that we are engaging with a new audience.