Entertainment & Arts

Putting family first at festivals

Portable toilets, muddy fields and huge crowds might not sound like the ideal ingredients for a family outing.

Image caption Juno Roach gets musical at Latitude's kids' club

But growing numbers of parents are taking their children to the UK's biggest musical events, and organisers are responding with expanding facilities.

From this weekend, music-loving mums and dads can pay to leave their children at supervised kids' clubs at Latitude festival in Suffolk and five other major music events throughout the summer.

Previously festivals have offered only children's activities and play areas where parents must accompany their little ones at all times.

Eight-year-old Juno Roach from Darlington was one of the first children to trial the new service at Latitude when it was launched on Thursday.

"I think it will be quite fun because it's got lots of cool stuff like dressing up, games and books," he says.

"Usually it can be quite boring without my friends. I like to make friends and I think I will here."

New experiences

It is Juno's third festival with his parents Ronnie Roach and David Pratt.

They're impressed with the two large brown tepees hosting the club, where children play musical instruments, read or just have a rest from the frenetic activity of the main festival site.

"It appealed to us because Juno can have his time where he can go mad without us telling him off, and we can have some time alone.

"It's a very long time to spend together and everybody gets tired so it's just a break for all of us," says Ronnie.

David adds: "Latitude is a family festival and this feels like a natural extension from the children's field where they can do this kind of thing - but you can't leave them there."

The couple say that they bring Juno to events like this to give him "new experiences" in music and the arts and to experience outdoor space away from their home town.

About 10,000 other children are expected on the site during the weekend. Tickets for the festival are free for under 12s.

The childcare service is run by a new business, Boutique Babysitting. Its co-founders are Selina Cope, a trained nanny and festival fan, and businesswoman Lisa Merrick-Lawless, who has taken her own children to numerous music events.

"There are lots of family workshops and activities on the site. What we are offering is the chance for parents to simply have a morning or evening off," says Lisa. "They could catch a headline band or just to go and have a shower and a rest."

The idea has already won support from some of the festival's performers, including The Feeling's Richard Jones, who has two children with singer and DJ Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

"I think it's a brilliant idea. It's so fun having your kids with you at festivals. We usually rope in family and friends to help out, but this means that if you don't have anyone, then you can go off and enjoy your evening on your own, so it's the best of both worlds, really."

'Feels wrong'

But the kids' club, which costs £48 for each four-hour session, has generated criticism from other parts of the festival industry.

'It just feels wrong, if you're going to take a kid, fine, take it, but be prepared to give yourself first to the kid at the festival" says Neil Greenway of efestivals.co.uk.

"To take them and then put them second by palming them off on someone else just doesn't feel right."

Lisa insists that children's safety is paramount with a photo ID and wristband system to keep track of both parents and children. All workers are qualified professionals who are interviewed and screened for criminal convictions. If they are caught drinking they will be escorted off the site.

But what happens if the parents return to collect their children after a few too many?

Image caption Festival offspring have the chance to play and mingle

"We do make allowances for one of them," says Lisa. "We would also factor in whether they have a family friend with them. But if all of them were unfit to take their children home then they would be referred to the festival's welfare team."

Their service has been booked for five other events this summer including Camp Bestival, The Big Chill and classical music festival Serenata.

Among the buggies, department store picnic rugs and sensible sandals at Latitude it is difficult to find fans that disagree with the expansion of childcare at festivals.

Simon Paige, however, is one of the exceptions.

"I don't mind kids but I was here two years ago and I was desperately trying not to stand on them in the main area," explains the 28-year-old.

"Some parents need to keep them on a lead and control the little monsters a bit more. There is also the worry that they could get lost in a big crowd," he adds.

For Simon, children have become festival VIPs.

"They get in for free, they get their own entertainment and now they have their own area!" he says.

"I guess it is good if it brings in more people to the festival… just as long as they don't get under my feet!"

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