In November 2018 we took our 6 and 3 year old little girls to the Circus for the very 1st time! A simple, yet majorly overlooked family outing, that for families with disabilities is often – very hard or even impossible to make happen. While the average family need only see the poster and plan to go, for families like ours it’s a military operation and an accessibility nightmare. Even in 2018, modern day seasonal/pop-up events such as Circuses are NOT wheelchair-friendly as the big top is always stood erect on the most insanely hilly, overgrown embankment/field possible and if you have a visual impairment – it’s just money well…wasted sadly.
That’s where the wonderful people behind Circus Starr come in to bridge the gap! Circus Starr is the UK’s #1 INCLUSIVE travelling “Circus with a Purpose!” It’s purpose being to bring a fun filled night to disabled and disadvantaged children up and down the country who would otherwise often Never have the opportunity to experience the joys and memories circus events have to offer. Never heard of them? Me neither, and that’s most likely because they’re a charity first and use all their donations on the costs of travelling to reach as many children and families as possible, and as ridiculous as this may sound to a non-disabled reader, it costs an arm and a leg to provide accessibility that is also PORTABLE.
So what does Circus Starr provide exactly that an average circus does not?
Inclusion Beyond Measure
- Relaxed performances that encourage inparticular children on the Autism spectrum and learning difficulties to interact, move around and ultimately be themselves throughout the entire show.
- Wheelchair access with the circus big top being built on large car parks rather than on a field, making it easy to navigate manual or electric wheelchairs. A wealth of wheelchair spaces encircling the inner stage which makes it possible to come with friends who are also wheelchair users or as a local disability group without the worry over limited spaces or not being able to see the show.
- Headphones for guests with visual impairments/blindness to hear audio descriptions of what is happening on stage!
- Clowns that are in no way frightening, in neutral clothing with very little make-up, yet still being recognisable as a clown. Chicco being the friendliest, funniest clown you’ll ever meet!
- A friendly team of Circus Starr staff who are on hand throughout the performance should you need an extra pair of hands in any way, shape or form – they understand the struggle and are there to support families.
- FREE TICKETS via the Donated Ticket Programme which takes the financial worry away from families, so all that’s left is to enjoy the show! Click here to Apply for Tickets.
and what I, as a Changing Places user was most in awe of was the fact that the fabulous travelling Changing Places facility MobiLOO have toured with Circus Starr this year and as long as funding allows, will continue to tour with them indefinitely!! Meaning anybody who cannot use standard disabled toilets, needing the aid of a ceiling track hoist for transferring and adult sized changing bench for sorting pads/clothing can come enjoy the experience without the worry over toileting.
If you’d like to understand more about why Changing Places toilets are so important, please take a moment to read this post –
We arrived in plenty of time for the show thanks to local wheelchair taxi firm Nationwide Bolton ♿ for the 4:45pm performance. The girls were so excited, chattering away at all the exciting things they thought they’d see at Circus Starr, having only videos and word of mouth to go by. Up until this point our family has never been able to go to a circus and that stung as a disabled Mum, there is always a degree of guilt that despite how hard I try to find things for us to do/experience together – there are times we hit brick wall after brick wall mainly due to my limitations, particularly around needing a Changing Places loo nearby. Knowing Circus Starr had partnered with MobiLOO on tour put my mind at ease and for one rare evening out, Mummy got to drink how ever much she wanted (non-alcoholic of course!)
Hannah from Circus Starr who had kindly arranged FREE tickets for our family of 4 and who’d I’d been leasing with on Twitter for sometime met us as we passed the MobiLOO vehicle where attendant Ceri was also waiting to say Hello! It’s such an heartwarming feeling to finally meet people you campaign along side for change. We’d stop to chat more with them after as the littles were eager to get inside and not miss a beat!
The show was absolutely packed with local families – disabled and able alike. Friendly staff guided us through the crowd at the enterance to a place to park my electric wheelchair and grabbed us 3 additional collapsible seats so we could enjoy the acts, seated together as a family. You’d be shocked at the amount of times a family like ours gets split up due to lack of access. Not this time, Circus Starr had really thought it through. Not only was it practical and convenient to sit at the front as a wheelchair user, with a daughter and partner who are visually impaired – it was equally important to them that we were as close as possible for them to also get the most out of the experience. Sadly Hannah explained early on in the arrangements that not all their shows have the option of audio description due to lack of funds. This is something they hope to make happen in the future and would of definitely made it that bit more accessible especially for my 6 year old.
The girls and us were mesmerised from the word go watching the incredible and mighty brave acrobats twirl on various objects through the big top sky, Abbie and Ava shouted in chorus with the rest of the children as the ring leader and Chicco the clown engaged the young audience to look for the bear, the tent roaring with laughter when Chicco and his friends couldn’t see the teddy playing hide and seek. At the interval, Hannah came to find us to ask if we needed any assistance to which she helped my partner get some chips from the stall. As kids do, the girls at the sight of grub acted like they’d never been fed so we were very thankful to see bites to eat such as hot dogs, chips, cotton candy and I believe there were burgers but they must of been at the other side. The ringleader announced that the children were welcome on stage during the 20min interval to have their face painted, get a animal balloon and take photos with Chicco and the other performers. As it was quite packed, we decided against trying to navigate out the spot kindly dedicated to us to go onto the stage for these activities and the girls were quite happily eating their grub, but it’s definitely something we’ll aim to do next year when we return now we know how it all works!
The 2nd half of the show included some very talented ladies balancing on large balls going up and down ramps and a tear jerking performance of Reach by S Club 7, followed up with This is Me, the inspirational hit single from The Greatest Showman Soundtrack – both accompanied with the performers signing in Makaton whilst encouraging the audience to sign/sing along with the songs. The girls ABSOLUTELY loved this and sang and signed (thank you to Cbeebies Mr Tumble) with everyone, as did I. Such a lovely way and momentous moment for the big finale!!
Overall it was a truly amazing family night out and I’m so glad they got in-touch to invite us. Without Circus Starr, the fact is it just wouldn’t of happened. A big Thank You to Hannah and the team at Circus Starr and the fabulous MobiLOO who together have brought smiles and a worry-free inclusive experience to hundreds of families. We’ll treasure this memory forever…
If you enjoyed this post, please consider taking a moment to donate to this ‘Circus with a Purpose’ so they can continue to do the amazing job they do and bringing about wonderful memories to families like ours. Thank You!