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Take the Family › 7 Golden Rules for Organising a Family Festival

7 Golden Rules for Organising a Family Festival

Aardman Creations at the Deer Shed Festival.Aardman Creations at the Deer Shed Festival.

Having recently updated our family festivals guide for 2016, we’ve been pondering the question of makes a truly child-friendly festival. We asked our friends over at the Deer Shed Festival, which takes place in North Yorkshire between 22 and 24 July, for tips based on their seven years of experience and huge number of returning customers.

• Keep it Small, Safe and Secure

To give parents, guardians and children peace of mind, it’s important to make a family-friendly festival as safe as possible. We maintain relatively small crowds and have specific child wristbands (for both security and writing phone numbers), an easily findable welfare tent and lots of brilliant volunteers.

• Design Spacious Camping

Families often come to festivals together, so its’s important to offer enough space for them to camp in groups. Also, the shorter the distance between the campsite and the arena the better when it comes junior festival-goers with little, easily exhausted legs.

• Have Clean Loos

We hesitated to bring this up, but it honestly ranks more highly on customer feedback than anything else – even the music!

• Provide Plenty of Workshops and Activities

We were simply not prepared for workshops being one of the most popular aspects of our festival. But we’ve learnt from our mistakes and have got better at estimating the quantities of milk-bottle tops and yoghurt pots that will be needed for crafts, and have also introduced workshops from outside companies such as Aardman, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and West Yorkshire Playhouse to help share the crowd. We also run a bigger, more varied workshop line-up to make sure there’s plenty for everyone to enjoy.

• Get the Comedy Line-up Right

Getting the tone of the comedy right at a family festival can be very challenging. For us, it was all about catering to the adult audience but with a strict PG rating so children can enjoy it too. We also include lots of comedy shows and sketches suitable for everyone; avoiding comedy that’s 'just for kids' seems to be the best way to go if you want to keep the whole family entertained.

• Book Great Music

This is the most important part of any festival: by having a varied line-up, you’re sure to appeal to the tastes of every member of your audience. And bear in mind the importance of your headliners to ensure everyone goes back to their tents on a high. We try to vary the appeal of our headliners – this year we’ve mixed the Northern working-class hero aspect of Richard Hawley with the intensity of Everything Everything and the classy kookiness of Beth Orton.

• Reinvent Yourself

It's very easy to sink into the same routines where nothing ever changes except the bands – that's fine for festival first-timers, but for families who return year on year, you need to keep refreshing the site art, theatre and activities. We get around this issue by theming each festival, from last year’s Up in the Air through Time Travel, Monsters, Machines, Sky at Night and Year 1’s theme, which we think was “Arrghhh-we’re-running-a-festival!”.

Themes give you a great starting point. This year’s At the Movies theme allowed us to come up with loads of exciting and creative ideas and even inspired us to make our own short film about evil AI babysitters… But that’s a story for another time!

See also TaketheFamily’s tips for making the most of festivals with kids.

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