Download festival: Disabled woman who paid £1.2k to be there forced to leave as accessible camping was full
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A disabled woman who paid £1,200 to attend Download festival had to leave after just three hours - because the accessible camping site was full. Frances Simmonds-Mead booked tickets to the rock event for her and her partner Oliver Marchant, 26, last November.
Frances, who is a full-time wheelchair user and has Oliver as her carer, says she contacted the festival to tell them about the facilities she would need. But the 24-year-old was left devastated when they arrived at the site in Donnington Park, Leicestershire to find the accessible camping area rammed.
Frances, from Ipswich, Suffolk, says she and other people with disabilities were left searching for answers - and staff were nowhere to be seen. She and Oliver eventually waited for three hours before being told “there was no space” - so decided to leave.
Live Nation, which owns and operates the festival, said it is aware of complaints and is working with customers. Frances said: “I felt so defeated, I just cried. They said there was nowhere I could sleep.
“We had really been looking forward to it, and invested financially, practically and emotionally. This was the biggest thing we’ve done in half a decade - it felt huge.
“It takes a lot of preparation for someone with a disability to get ready to live outside for five days. I just needed the facilities to be there so I could be independent.
“When you’re buying an accessible ticket you have to share a lot of information about really personal stuff like toileting which makes you feel really vulnerable. It feels like a huge loss of dignity, and I still didn’t get what I needed: it was heartbreaking.
“Download has a good reputation for accessibility and is advertised as this community for people who feel othered, or like they don’t belong, but I felt completely shut out.” Frances has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which makes her hips dislocate when she stands.
She and Oliver, a head chef, have been looking forward to hanging out with other people with disabilities. The pair ticked off accessibility requirements from a list the organisers provided, opting for accessible toilets, viewing platform access, wheelchair charging, road access to campsite and changing facilities.
They packed up the car and set off at 8am on June 7. However, the expected three-hour journey took 12 hours due to traffic on the M1, said Frances.
They were allocated campsite A - for people with the highest level of access need - when they booked. But Frances says her hopes were crushed when they were met with campers crammed together, tent guy ropes overlapping, and wheelchairs and mobility scooters vying for space amid cars on the track around the campsite.
She said: “We were just allowed straight through - no one checked we were meant to be there. We weren’t asked for any paperwork, even though we were told to print off loads of documents that we’d need to show to come into the accessible campsite.
“As soon as I saw the site I knew it wasn’t what we had been told to expect: there were tents and people everywhere. It was a huge fire risk. People were just sat there crying.
“Also there were about 30 charging points and thousands of wheelchairs - you really need an overnight charge. Mostly when we’re talking about things we need people think it’s extras, but it’s not. These are basic human rights around safety, sleeping, eating, toileting, etc.
“I was so, so sad to go home. I couldn’t even play my music because I was so upset about not being able to see my favourite bands at the festival.”
After leaving the event, Frances claims she’s seen other disabled people posting horror stories of their time at Download. She estimates she spent £1,200 on the festival, including tickets, camping equipment, petrol and other items.
A spokesperson for Live Nation said: “Download Festival received complaints from customers regarding access on site. We take these matters very seriously and the relevant teams are working to resolve these with customers.
“We are not at liberty to discuss individual cases.”