In early June whilst raiding my 6-year-old daughters’ book bag (as us Mums do for forgotten slips to sign and to fill in reading diaries), I discovered a leaflet for an event taking place at Moss Bank Park, which conveniently is just a short walk from our new house. Giving it a quick scan before the girls got into another sibling scrap in the garden, my eyes clocked right on the words FREE ADMISSIONS, bouncy castles, live music and I paused in shock, a sensory tent on-site for children with additional needs!
If you’re new to my blog – Welcome! I’m Fi, a 30-year-old disabled Mum of 2 living with a progressive muscle-wasting condition that makes me a full-time powerchair user. My eldest daughter Abbie is 6 and is visually impaired, as is my partner and my youngest Ava (3) is your typical bouncy, wild child of a toddler.
Living in a multi-disability household and dabbling in various access campaigns, I’m always on the lookout for local things for us to do and experience together that has the right facilities for our family. I stuck the flyer to the fridge amongst the girls’ many masterpieces and made a mental note to look into it further. This leaflet constantly fell off, as if giving me a subtle reminder over the coming week, prompting me to search on Facebook. Low and behold I discovered none other than the magnificent Mobiloo was in attendance! What’s a Mobiloo? I hear you wonder, well it’s a company that has a fleet of adapted horse boxes, kitted out with a toilet, ceiling track hoist, and free-standing adult-sized changing table. Essentially it’s a mobile Changing Places toilet facility that events can hire up and down the country to show they cater for people with profound disabilities who cannot use standard accessible toilets, e.g me. That was it, we couldn’t miss this rare opportunity of a family day out being so inclusive, literally right on our doorstep! Not to be dramatic, but this sort of thing happens once in a blue moon to families like ours, so when it does you grab it by the horns and run with the ideals that most people take for granted – like suitable toilet facilities and wheelchair access.
So off we went on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon on the 10-minute walk to Moss Bank Park, Bolton to catch some rays and let the girls run off that weekend energy that always mounts up.
We could tell it was a big turn out as we neared the park on foot as there was next to no spaces left of the pavements with everyone’s cars lining them, the first car park was full and security officials were redirecting traffic to another area. I had texted Abbie’s school friends Mum to see if they’d like to meet us and much to my eldest delight – they did! A rare spontaneous playdate for an action-packed day for the littles, exactly what they needed in the beautiful weather we’ve been having lately.
The Event Layout
As we entered the park we were given a map which was so helpful, it showed exactly what was going on, in which areas and how best to get there. It was plain to see access was at the forefront of the organizers’ minds as Mobiloo (as you can see) is clearly marked conveniently beside the sensory tent, both directly opposite the stage. I thought this layout of these particular facilities at the festival was really well-thought-out for children/adults with autism for example, who may feel more content in the sensory tent, yet the entire family could still hear and feel very much a part of the whole event, in no way segregated which is what tends to happen at gigs and such.
The girls were absolutely buzzing and wanted to locate the bounce houses right away, as we were quite literally dragged by the littles down the paths as they followed the map, I made sure to quickly say “Hi” and wave to Ceri, the Mobiloo attendant of the day who I’d met on our first trip to the circus last year, which they tour with annually.
It was £5 per child for a 2-hour slot in the “inflatables” kid zone that had everything from 3-4 large different themed bouncy castles, carousels, rides of different kinds, face painting, etc. I liked how everything was included in the initial price and there were no hidden costs. We spent a good hour in the inflatable zone just following the girls from each bounce house to the next, occasionally rescuing Ava from being trampled on by older children as she tried to keep up with her big sister and her friend. Life on a little sister aye? I remember those days well! They also had greek street food stands, stalls that sold trinkets and handmade bits and bobs, candyfloss and sweets and fair type games to play such as the classic “hook a duck.” You could find things for older children and teens like the zorb football zone and you could see groups of teens had dotted themselves around the park having organized their own games in the blazing sunshine. All “zones” were well manned over 100 friendly and knowledgable volunteers connected with St Peters’ Church in Halliwell.
The Sensory Tent
After we managed to pry the kids away from the inflatables zone with the mention of ice cream, we ended up taking a detour to the sensory tent as the queues for each ice cream van/hut were – as you may imagine on such a lovely summers day, chocka! We were warmly welcomed by the team as soon as we entered and while the children were introduced to the Orbeez tray (if you’re a regular reader you’ll remember Abbie adores these – Top 5 Rainy Day Activities for Visually Impaired Children), we were offered a cup of tea/cold drink and some delicious cakes, which we, of course, just couldn’t refuse! As we sat around little tables in the big gazebo-style tent chatting with other parents who’d brought their children with a wide variety of disabilities/conditions, I couldn’t help but feel rather emotional being given a cup of tea and the fact we were swept up so warmly by total strangers to come chat with families that were in similar circumstances. It made us feel so at home, in a safe, secure circle where we weren’t so much on edge of our children struggling or wandering into the bustling crowds. We could catch our breath from the excitement of a family day out and the girls could play safely while we chatted amongst ourselves. With the help of the Orbeez tray, ball pit, wind chimes and pinwheels, fibre optic sensory lights in a little reading nook with bean bags and soft floor mats, toys grouped by themes such as a dinosaur zone with sand, the girls really enjoyed the time spent going from one activity to the next within and of course, divulged in cake with us!
Discussions with event volunteers enlightened me that this was the first year that a sensory tent has been included at our local Party in the Park and it’d been something families had been needing for some time to enable them to participate in a festival catered to families. So teachers and support staff from various special needs schools around the borough, along with event coordinator Matt Gorton had rallied together to fundraise prior to provide a free day out for any and all families in the borough. I was in awe of how much the team had pushed for the inclusion of children and adults with complex needs, after the success of both features of this year’s festival, it is hoped a sensory tent and Mobiloo will be included in future events.
Celebrating ‘Local Heros’
It was wonderful to see the Bolton locals coming together to nominate individuals that are so passionate about their area of work such as dance coaches from BOOM Genese and Beth, Christine from CreateBolton, local fireman Ian Read, Mr. Garner and Mrs. Goodwin – teachers at Church Road Primary School, Elsie who’s now retired but works voluntarily for Bolton Council supporting families with children with learning disabilities , Pediatric Nurse and Mum Kim Grundy and countless others. All so very deserving of praise for their incredible dedications in their roles.
It’s not surprising that this year saw the largest turn out of people from all across the borough – an estimated 7,000 attendees after the tremendous efforts brought together by all volunteers and event coordinators.
I want to take the opportunity to thank all involved in making this day possible and we look forward to when Party in the Park returns to Bolton in 2021!
Do you think more local events (like festivals) aimed at families should be allocating additional funding towards things like those highlighted in this post?
What do more “inclusive” features on days out mean to you and your family?