Battersea Arts Centre is launching itself as the world’s first Relaxed Venue in February 2020. A move to open itself up to more audiences, this will radically embed access and inclusivity across all its activities.
The launch also marks the start of Tarek Iskander’s first season as Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre and the birthday of activist-artist company Touretteshero.
Battersea Arts Centre will be the first to have gone through Touretteshero’s brand new Relaxed Venue method of identifying and dismantling the barriers faced by disabled people. It strives to make the entire experience of visiting a venue more welcoming, accessible and inclusive. As part of Arts Council England’s Change Makers programme, Battersea Arts Centre has been working with Touretteshero - a company co-founded by Jess Thom in 2010 as a creative response to her experience of having Tourettes Syndrome. Their methodology will be available for any other organisation wanting to go through the process and rethink their approach to access.
The Relaxed Venue method takes the principles that guide Relaxed Performances and apply them across all of an organisation’s spaces and programmes. Relaxed Performances were originally devised to make performance more accessible to people disabled by the usual rules of theatre etiquette. The principles encompass everything from clear, understandable advance information, to taking a relaxed approach to movement and noise coming from the audience.
The Relaxed Venue
Touretteshero worked across teams and with staff at every level, to identify disabling barriers and to develop creative solutions to them.
In practical terms, this is being demonstrated in several ways:
Ensuring the key principles of Relaxed Performances are present for the overwhelming majority of Battersea Arts Centre’s programme, including a permanent ‘chill out space’ in the building, availability of ear defenders, and a commitment to welcoming diverse audiences.
Consistent ongoing offers of other types of access performances
Programming that reflects disability culture and disabled-led work
A range of commitments across all our management operations to ensure that access and inclusivity remains at the heart of all our structures and activity.
Over 90% of performances at Battersea Arts Centre since Autumn 2018 have been Relaxed, with the benefits having been felt by a huge range of audiences, such as autistic people, those with learning disabilities, movement disorders, dementia, or just people with very loud laughs.
“By coming on this journey, Battersea Arts Centre are sending a bold and exciting message to their staff, artists and audiences that they understand, welcome and celebrate disability arts and culture in all of its many forms. We can’t wait for you to experience the difference!”
- Jess Thom, co-founder of Touretteshero
“Battersea Arts Centre has been transformed by this methodology, far beyond what we could have possibly imagined. It has completely altered how we think of ourselves and our relationship to the world. This will always be a work in progress, not a destination to reach, but as a mark of where we are, over 98% of the performances in our next season are going to be Relaxed.
There’s a new immediacy and contact between the live performers and audiences that didn’t previously exist. This isn’t just a positive economic or ethical choice for us, it’s is a positive artistic one. The work we have done has been transformational, not just for a few people, but for everyone who comes into our building. ”
- Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director and CEO of Battersea Arts Centre
The Social Model of Disability
The Relaxed Venue method starts with the social model of disability, which says disability isn’t caused by people’s bodies or minds, but by how society is structured. It understands that it’s completely normal for bodies and minds to work differently, and for some people to have impairments and others not. People are more or less disabled according to their environment or circumstances. The social model allows individuals, organisations and society to create less-disabling spaces, systems and attitudes by considering difference from the outset.
The Relaxed Venue Method
The Relaxed Venue method focuses on six areas
Physical – building and spaces
Creative – shows and artistic programme
Structural – governance and staffing
Digital – website and social media
Emotional – relationships with audience, staff and volunteers
Community – connections and social action work
The Guiding Commitments
Three guiding commitments emerged for what Relaxed Venues will work to embed. These simple commitments can be applied to many areas of life and have the potential to radically improve disabled people’s experience of public spaces.
To create no new barriers: A Relaxed Venue understands disability using the social model and acknowledges that people with impairments are disabled by environments, systems and attitudes that do not consider difference in how they are set up. A Relaxed Venue commits to considering access at every stage of any project, and to creating no new disabling barriers within their work
To ensure equality of experience: A Relaxed Venue goes beyond being technically accessible to disabled people and understands that there needs to be parity in the services it provides. This does not mean that everyone has to experience exactly the same thing, but it does mean that thought is put into how experiences feel for all audiences, staff and artists
To reduce fuss: A Relaxed Venue acknowledges the accumulative impact that experiencing barriers has on individual and community wellbeing, and therefore commits to reducing fuss around access requirements by ensuring that they are understood, embedded and as seamless as possible