The panto season is the Key Theatre’s busiest period, but helping it go smoother than ever this year will be the new front-of-house Access Hosts. Drawn from Vivacity’s team of volunteers, their job is to make sure everyone – including those with disabilities or particular needs – have a great theatre experience. The Moment talked to Vivacity’s Volunteer Coordinator Gill Benedikz about the new role
What is an ‘Access Host’ and how did the role come about?
The Access Host role is something fairly new to us, but we’re trialling it during panto season. It’s about helping people to make the most of their theatre experience, whether they’re disabled or caring for someone. It’s smoothing the way, so if we know when someone books their tickets that they have a disability we can help with seating them – but it means carers who may be accompanying them can be better catered for as well.
What will they do?
The idea is to have a dedicated member of the front-of-house team who looks out for people arriving and can make sure know where the accessible toilets are, that they can get into the lift and out at the other end, that they can get to the bar and have their drinks ordered and can get settled in the auditorium comfortably. It’s something that has worked really well in other theatres and was something the team here was really keen to introduce – and it fits well alongside the front-of-house role that we have for the Key Theatre anyway, which is something we’re keen to develop.
Are we just talking about helping with wheelchair access?
No, not at all. It may be families who are living with someone with autism, or who has Tourette’s, or a learning difficulty, or perhaps has some unpredictable behaviour such as dementia or perhaps a hearing impairment. It’s very difficult for individuals and families not to feel they’re going to be judged when they come into a theatre with a condition such as that, and it can really limit what they feel they can do. So, it could well be someone in a wheelchair, but it might also be someone with arthritis, or veterans from the forces who have lost a limb. It’s just about taking part in normal life. It’s the entitlement of people who live in our society to access the theatre to enjoy a play, or some music or a live screening and to be treated as a normal individual. Occasionally you have to make adjustments to make that possible for people, but that is really what the Access Host role is all about.
Should theatregoers let you know in advance if they have particular needs?
If people are happy to let us know when they book then that’s really useful. They don’t have to – we’re not being nosy! – it just allows us to prepare and see if there’s anything we can do and make their experience at the theatre a better one, even if, for example, it’s just ensuring they get an aisle seat when they book.
And it will be staffed entirely by volunteers?
Yes! We have a long history of volunteer involvement with the Key Theatre – the longest established volunteer has been with us for 26 years – but we want to build that team, just to make sure that everyone has a really good experience in the theatre. The panto period is manically busy, so we do also focus the recruitment of volunteers in the build up to it. Vivacity as a whole uses volunteers for lots of different reasons, but one of them is to get over that idea that ‘nothing happens in Peterborough’. Getting involved as a volunteer with an organisation like Vivacity means that not only that you know what’s going on and can tell friends and family, but also that you’re actively making things happen. And they have a really good time! generally, our volunteers are a really happy bunch, and they get involved in the Heritage Festival or the Perkins Great Eastern Run because they just want to be involved in the life of the city. We always welcome people who want to get involved.
Voluntary work is a great way to gain new skills, enhance your CV, improve employment prospects, meet like-minded people and help in your community. Vivacity has lots of volunteering opportunities available, including in sport, libraries, history, fundraising, and even helping at one-off events, such as the annual Heritage Festival. No matter how much time you have, you can make a difference.
For more information, call 01733 864 775, email or visit www.vivacity-peterborough.com