You know when you have a bad feeling about something? Like a deep down bad feeling in your gut? Well, that’s what Allan and I had when we booked Fusion Festival tickets way back in March of this year. The months leading up the festival had us feeling anxious and questioning whether we actually want to go. We constantly went back and forth wondering what Fusion Festival disabled access and wheelchair accessibility was going to be like. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If only we listened to our gut. Now brace yourself, here is my experience of attending Fusion Festival in a wheelchair.
Now, it’s no secret how much we love Kings of Leon. we’ve seen them perform so many times and the thought of seeing them again was too exciting. So when it was announced they would be headlining Fusion presents on the opening night of Fusion Festival in Liverpool, we didn’t hesitate. It was also another opportunity to visit Liverpool again and do some more exploring.
Looking back, booking tickets was relatively straightforward. We booked our tickets through Ticketmaster and during the booking process, we selected one standard ticket and a PA/carer ticket. I then sent an email to confirm we had access to the viewing platform. I didn’t receive a reply.
A few weeks later and still no reply so I emailed again. Still no reply. I sent a few more emails. Nothing. Two weeks before the festival and still no confirmation whether we had access to the viewing platform. This time, feeling annoyed and slightly peeved by their lack of communication, I sent off another email. It was firm and straight to the point and calling them out for their poor communication. Surprise surprise. They replied. Why did it take months of ignoring my emails to then reply when I send one email that questions their lack of customer service?
After all that waiting, their reply was simply “You will need to contact Ticketmaster directly to confirm this. You can call them on 0800 988 4440”. I waited for months to be told to contact another company to confirm if I had access to the viewing platform.
It’s so important for access information to be available online. A website is usually the first place people look for information. It’s so important that its made available, but Fusion Festival lacked in this area too. There was no information about what type of toilet facilities would be available or where disabled parking would be located.
Again when I asked Fusion Festival about toilets and parking, I was told to contact Ticketmaster. Never have I been to a gig or festival that pass all their enquiries to a ticketing agency. Usually, the organiser, venue or promoter handle and control these queries. Not Fusion Festival. They pass the buck so they don’t have to deal with any accessibility issues.
One week before the festival, I receive a text message from Ticketmaster advising me to fill in the survey if I wanted to book disabled parking for Fusion Festival. Not being familiar with the area of Liverpool or where would be good to park, we decided it might be easier to book the parking. I clicked on the link and begun to fill in the survey. I input my name, order number etc and hit submit. It said the bank card we used to book our tickets would be charged for the parking, but there was nothing telling me how much it would be. This angered me. Surely if there was a charge for parking it should state that before submitting the form. I received no confirmation afterwards either so I didn’t have any proof that I booked disabled parking.
A few days before the festival, we receive an email with the street name for disabled parking. So on the day, we popped it into Google Maps and drove the 10 minutes from our hotel. We got stopped by a steward who was standing guarding a blocked off-street. We knew we were in the right area, Google maps were directing us to go straight through, but the steward seemed oblivious to why the road was blocked. He told us to drive in the other direction away from the area, but we insist this is where disabled parking is for the festival. He replies “oh yeah, that’s right” and let us through. Really?
We drove ahead and approached another steward manning a gate. Though he doesn’t know exactly where disabled parking is, he directed us to continue driving down the street. The third steward, we approached then let us into the disabled parking area. He told us to follow the path and find a spot to park. As we drove down the path there was no one around. Not a single person. We weren’t sure if we were even in the right area as there were no signs to tell us it was disabled parking for the festival. We parked up anyway.
There were four paths leading in different directions. Which do we take? It was a choice of elimination simply by listening for the sound of where the music was coming from. Having a sign or a steward directing the way would have been handy.
Still, no sign of any stewards so we continued rolling/walking along the path, we are still looking for a sign to direct us to the accessible entrance. We didn’t want to walk in the wrong direction in case we had to double back on ourselves.
In the distance, we could see a group of around ten stewards standing together near an entrance. As we got closer, Allan ran over and asked one of them where the accessible entrance was, but he gets told it’s over at the main entrance.
There was no separate accessible entrance. It was one main entrance with barrier lanes. The last lane had a small sign with ‘disabled entrance’.
The lanes were muddy and the rain was on its way. A steward checked our tickets and pulled out the map of the festival she had hanging around her neck. She pointed to where we were on the map and where we would find the viewing platform. It’s on the opposite side of the site to where we currently are. This didn’t seem right, so we asked if this is the way we would come out at the end of the show. To our surprise, she said it would be. We also asked if there were wheelchair paths covering the muddy grass to the platform. Surprise surprise. There was not.
After my bag search, I drove forward and waited for Allan to be searched. While sitting waiting for him a drunk man walked into me and almost fell over me. I’m sitting by myself and completely unable to protect myself from potentially being hurt. Thankfully I wasn’t.
Search over, we entered the festival grounds and turned right to begin our hunt for the viewing platform. Instantly we knew it was going to be a nightmare. Litter everywhere so I had to try and dodge empty bottles, cups, food and all sorts of rubbish, but it was getting stuck under my wheelchair.
Usually, a viewing platform is pretty easy to find. Its whole purpose is to be higher than the crowd so the people on it can actually see, so you’d think it would be obvious to spot, right? No. There was no way of spotting this viewing platform through the crowds of people, which made us wonder if it was actually going to be high enough to see over people’s heads.
The closer we got, the more crowded and chaotic it got. Allan was struggling to protect me from peoples arms and elbows hitting me in the face, cigarettes millimetres from my hands, careless and oblivious drunk people falling into me and the sea of rubbish I was struggling to drive over. It all got too much.
Amongst the crowds, we spotted a steward walking by so we stopped him to ask where the viewing platform was. He didn’t know. Ready to fob us off, we ask again if he can help us get there. He pulls out the map hanging on a lanyard around his neck and begins looking at it and says he doesn’t know. Allan points out to him that he has the map upside down so he takes another look.
Still unsure, he asks us to wait while he goes and speaks to a group of stewards huddled together chatting in the VIP section. It seemed to be a common pattern to see stewards standing in groups chatting rather than helping. While he is away chatting to his colleagues the rain came on heavy so we frantically try and put the poncho on me, all the while, drunk people fall into me and others stand and stare.
He comes back to us, sensing we were annoyed and witnessing for himself how unsafe it was, he seemed willing to help. He began leading the way through the crowds, kicking the litter out the way to clear a path for me to drive through. We sense he is still unsure where the platform is as he stops and looks about a few times. Finally, we got to the viewing platform, we thanked him and he wished us a good night.
Relieved we were now at the viewing platform, but we quickly realised our problems weren’t over yet. There were people surrounding the viewing platform and wheelchair users were sat at the bottom of the platform ramp. This didn’t seem right. It seemed disorganised, chaotic and overcrowded. We gave our name to the steward and he ticked us off the access list. He lets us in, but instead of showing us to our spot on the viewing platform, he walked away, leaving us on the ramp wondering what was happening. I drove after him and asked to speak to someone in charge.
There were people standing and wheelchair users sitting on the ramp not able to get on the actual platform. There was even someone passed out drunk sitting on the railing of the ramp leaning on the back of a wheelchair. Disgraceful and so disrespectful. Was he supposed to be on the platform? Was he someone’s carer in that state? Why wasn’t he told to move as he was sitting on a ramp which is used for people to get on and off. At one point with his eyes still closed, he was trying to put his arm out to grab on to the railing but he couldn’t get a hold of it and was losing his balance. Instead, he was left to be a health and safety risk.
We began to speak to people around us and they explained how disastrous the viewing platform had been. They told us it had been like that the whole day and that the stewards had been letting people on the platform that weren’t on the access list.
That was obvious by the sheer number of people on the tiny platform. We still couldn’t get on the platform and we couldn’t see the stage at all. I couldn’t believe we travelled from Scotland to see our favourite band and we weren’t going to be able to see them.
We spoke to the steward and explain we want to speak to someone in charge. Apparently no one was available, but we told him as soon as he sees them to let us know. He agrees, but we know he won’t. The steward told us that there were 27 names on the access list and he shows us it. There was over double that on the viewing platform and the steward agreed with us that it was a shambles. He also tells us that everyone on the platform had been complaining about it, but nothing was being done about it.
The viewing platform was dangerous. It was way too small for the number of people on it. There was only one way on and off, which made it extremely difficult to move around especially with wheelchairs. The viewing platform was positioned in the middle of the festival crowd, so we were surrounded by tens of thousands of people with no safe way to exit in an emergency. Major health and safety risks. Can you imagine the carnage if there were an incident and everyone on the platform needed off but we couldn’t because the entire festival crowd are surrounding us? I’ve never felt so unsafe and vulnerable as I did at Fusion Festival.
There was no point in being there. To me, the night was ruined. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t face dealing with the chaos of the crowds again. I felt unsafe. I felt trapped on the rickety inadequate viewing platform.
Just before Kings of Leon came on stage, someone told me to squeeze into a space on the platform. I’m not sure how we managed it, but we got on. It was a tight squeeze and because there was hardly any room, Allan had to stand behind me. I couldn’t see or interact with Allan for the entire show. When I go to an event I like to be able to interact with the person I’m with instead of feeling alone. It majorly takes the enjoyment out of it for me. I know other wheelchair users who feel the same.
The sea of wheelchairs and seats on the platform were front to back jammed in. Footrest to backrest with zero space to move, not even a little bit. There were people on that platform with more than one companion (which is the standard procedure). A wheelchair user in front of us had three people with her including her drunk husband, adult son and his girlfriend.
At one point the son had his friend on the platform beside them. He stood up on the side of the platform railing, slipped and almost fell on the disabled woman next to us. Shocking. The son had to keep telling us drunk Dad to sit down because he continually blocked my view and the woman beside me. The drunk man struggled to stand straight he was that drunk so every time he sat down he pushed back into his seat and squashed my feet on my footplates.
The stewards should have had better control of the viewing platform and done their job properly by not letting people on that weren’t on the access list. Instead, they let people abuse it and ultimately put disabled people at a further disadvantage and risk.
The organisers of Fusion Festival and Liverpool City Council should have provided a larger viewing platform to accommodate the people who needed it. A tiny viewing platform is extremely dangerous and inadequate for such a large festival. They should and 100% could have done better.
Not only was the viewing platform too small, overcrowded and dangerous, it was also not high enough. It was more or less the height of people standing, so when people in the crowd sat on shoulders, they blocked our view of the stage. If the viewing platform was higher like at other festivals it would have done its job.
There was also not enough seats for companions, so Allan and many others had to stand on the platform. At one point the steward came up to Allan and few other people standing and asked them to move because the crowd standing behind us couldn’t see. The steward was quickly told “tough, we can’t see”.
Again, this is another reason why a viewing platform should not be placed in the middle of a festival crowd. It’s dangerous but also not practical as people surrounding the platform especially at the back won’t be able to see. I’ve never been to a festival which has placed the platform in the middle of a crowd. If nothing else, it’s common sense.
Then there were the toilets. I’m not even going to call them accessible because they, or should I say ‘it’ was nothing but accessible. Yes, that’s right, there was only one ‘accessible’ toilet. You would expect a large festival like Fusion to have a range of ‘accessible’ loo’s, large/spacious loo’s at that and a fully accessible Changing Places facility. If you expect the same then you would be wrong. I emailed Fusion several times leading up to the festival enquiring about what toilets would be on site. I asked if there would be Changing Places or just those silly little portaloo style accessible loo’s, but I never got a reply.
We made a conscious decision to leave our hotel as close to the Kings of Leon stage time as possible so that I could go to the toilet before I left and hopefully not need while at the festival. We made that decision thinking it was the safer option because we didn’t want to risk needing and there not being adequate toilets.
We paid the same price for our ticket like everyone else but we missed out on all the rest of the bands because of a lack of suitable accessible toilets. Despite feeling thirsty I choose to not drink anything at all while at the festival. A choice many disabled people have to make when there are not suitable accessible toilets. It needs to change.
I met a lovely woman in her early twenties at the festival. We got chatting and shared mutual feelings on the shambles and quickly shared our details to become friends online. She is also a wheelchair user and has Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Due to the lack of accessible toilets, she also could not use the portaloo and instead had to make a detour after the festival to a hospital to use their toilet. She was desperate, but could not risk the long drive from Liverpool to Blackburn.
The crazy and ridiculous thing about all this is that there is a changing places toilet at Sefton Park. That is where the festival was held. However, it was locked. Changing Places are usually locked by a RADAR key, so why would there be a need to lock it so even if you have a RADAR key, you can’t get in. Why would they locked this vital facility especially when a festival was taking place the entire weekend with hundreds of disabled people who require a Changing Places toilet? Alternatively, Fusion festival could have easily hired a mobile Changing Places toilet like Mobiloo.
Complaints To Fusion Festival
At the end of the show, the viewing platform slowly emptied one person at a time. We waited back as we were wanting to speak to a manager. Instead, the steward we had spoken to earlier came across and asked us what the problem was. Everything! The girl (Lauren) I mentioned earlier also stayed behind with her Dad as they too were appalled by the lack of disabled provisions and dangerous viewing platform.
I asked Lauren to provide a quote about her experience at Fusion Festival and this is what she said.
“There’s no other way to describe it other than chaos. I don’t even know where to start. The platform was too small and there were far too many wheelchairs/companions on there, and there weren’t enough seats for the companions to sit on. They had to stand at the back during the concert so that the sea of people in wheelchairs could actually see, so most if not all of them had to be separated during the concert. I don’t know about you but if I take someone to a concert, I kind of expect to have them stood next to me so I can enjoy it with them! The toilet situation was abysmal, there was 1 ‘disabled’ porta potty that they were letting everyone in to use, and it was disgusting and not fit for use at all. The worst thing about it all was there was a Changing Places facility at the venue, it was just closed!! It was just awful. The concert was great but I spent most of it up to my eyeballs in anxiety, so I don’t think I’d go again, even though KOL were amazing.”
The steward seemed uninterested and kept telling us that no one from Fusion Festival was on site. We found that impossible to believe that the organiser, managers and staff of Fusion Festival were not present at their own festival. They were there, they just didn’t want to deal with us. Instead, they told the steward to tell us to go onto their website and fill in the contact form. The same contact form we had been using weeks and months before and never getting anywhere. We persevered and kept trying to get someone to speak to. Nothing. The stewards we spoke to all promised that they would take our complaints and discuss them at their debrief meeting. I am somehow not convinced that they did.
As soon as we got back to our hotel room we fired off a Facebook message to Fusion and filled in the contact form on their website like we were told. We also filmed a video and posted it on Twitter and Facebook. But no reply. No acknowledgement whatsoever from Fusion festival or Liverpool City Council who put on the festival. Not one single person has addressed our complaints and we were not the only ones. I’ve received messages and emails from other people who also made a complaint but have still to receive a reply.
One of the emails I received was from Louise O’Brien and with her permission, she is happy for me to share it with you.
“I was reading an article about the horrendous time you at the Fusion Festival in Liverpool and I would like to say I feel completely the same way. I have sent a massive complaint about the way everyone was treated. I attended on the Friday with my husband and then on the Sunday with my daughter who is 14 and has Down’s syndrome, ADHD and sensory processing disorder. I was told that we couldn’t use the facilities as she is ambulant disabled (she does have a chair she just doesn’t need it all the time and as we live in Liverpool and I drove then decided to leave it at home). Also as she was wearing ear defenders the woman said do you really think this is the best place for her if she has to wear those. I was completely gobsmacked and spoke to management who did eventually tell them that we could use the facilities but then I witnessed others being turned away, even people with wheelchairs being turned away. If you have another contact for them I would be grateful if you could send it to me as I am getting absolutely nowhere with my complaint, they just seem to be telling everyone that no one complained at all!”
I was absolutely shocked to read that Louise and her daughter were treated this way. To refuse someone from using the disabled facilities because they did not have a wheelchair is disgraceful. To make such an ignorant comment and question if they should be there enjoying a festival like everyone else just because they had ear defenders is beyond offensive. The icing on the cake, not receiving a response to this shocking treatment.
Fusion Festival can deny they didn’t receive complaints from disabled customers all they want, but they are lying. There were and are complaints being made, they just aren’t acknowledging them. Ignoring them and hoping it will go away but it won’t.
Like my friend and accessible travel blogger, John Morris tweeted “Fusion Festival “didn’t receive any complaints” because they refused to make anyone available to receive them. This sort of discrimination attacks disabled people every day.” I couldn’t agree more with john.
Twitter user, Emily also tweeted “Good job me and @parisianskies didn’t go to @fusionfest in the end, esp in my manual chair. They were a total nightmare to try and get disabled access info from in advance. Really embarrassed to have this sort of thing happen in my city.”
She also tweeted “I’m absolutely not surprised! @fusionfest were a nightmare to get details or support from before the festival about disabled access and kept passing the buck to @TicketmasterUK who tried to contact them but couldn’t get through. Ended up not going in the end.”
Health and Safety
Lack of disabled access and provisions along with poor attitudes towards disability/accessibility can severely knock disabled peoples confidence. This can also affect their independent living and general outlook on society. Fusion Festival failed every disabled person and their friends, family and carers who attended that festival and those that ended up not going because they failed to give them the access information you needed. We were not treated fairly or equally at all. Despite numerous complaints, Fusion Festival or anyone in charge of the event has failed to respond. ignoring our concerns, but also denying our experiences as disabled people shows the complete lack of interest, respect or commitment. It has been handled inappropriately and someone needs to acknowledge this.
Health and safety were ignored and as a result, we were put in dangerous conditions. Not only did the organisers, stewards and staff fail in providing a safe environment for disabled people entering and accessing the festival, they also endangered other festival go-ers by allowing illegal flares to be brought on sit. There were several flares being set off in the crowds which are illegal. Back in 2017 flares were banned from festivals and anyone caught setting them off can face 3 months in prison. Who carried out the bag searches on these Fusion Festival go-ers?
Watch Our YouTube Video
Fusion Festival was a shambles from start to finish. As a wheelchair user, never have I experienced an event this awful in all my experiences of gigs, festivals and other events. The lack of disabled access and provisions for disabled people was appalling. Everything from lack of disabled information on their website, poor communication, disabled parking, no safe accessible entrance, long walks from parking through crowds to the viewing platform, overcrowded/dangerous viewing platform and poor ‘accessible’ toilets. These are some of the main concerns for disabled people who went to Fusion Festival. At this point, we have still not received a response from anyone involved with Fusion Festival.
Thankfully, we have received lots of support from others who went to Fusion, readers/followers as well as journalists from Liverpool Echo and i news, who have featured our story. You can read the articles below including my Falkirk Herald column.
Disability blogger brands Fusion Festival ‘shambles’ for ‘lack of disabled access’
Wheelchair user ‘devastated’ that Fusion Festival viewing platform was overcrowded with drunk customers
Fusion Festival facilities for disabled were a complete shambles!