We were pretty excited to hear about this new festival Together The People in our home town Brighton. Falling the last weekend of the school holidays for many local children, it was set to be the perfect way to end a fabulous summer with what was billed as ‘a high quality, creative, family friendly and socially aware flagship event accessible to all’.
Although our family had a great weekend at Together The People the general feedback from parents was mixed. The event has the potential to be an excellent family day out, so to ensure this review is fair, I’ve gathered together input from several families at the event.
Let’s start with what was brilliant.
Brighton is blessed with some of the most talented and creative performers in the UK. Together The People certainly packed the music in, and with 5 music venues you were spoilt for choice. BIMM Institute Brighton ran the BIMM Presents new music stage and presented some fantastic up-and-coming bands.
The main stage saw big acts like Super Fury Animals, Public Service Broadcast, Billy Bragg and highlights of the weekend for us, Dizraeli & the Small Gods and soul legend Martha Reeves & the Vandellas. The stage was set at the bottom of the hill so easy to see from most of the festival even for kids. It was also quite easy to get to the front with small people if you wanted to and we enjoyed Brighton favourites The Levellers close up without the worry of crushed kids.
For such a small event the stages and sound systems were high quality and it was lovely to be able to sit in front of the main stage all day.
The Incredible Moving Picture House pop up cinema truck was great. One of the few things for kids to do at the event that didn’t involve you pulling out your purse, it showcased some short films and music videos. Once inside, it’s easy to forget you are inside the back of a truck, and the kids really enjoyed the experience. Little bags of popcorn would have been a great addition.
SETTING / FACILITIES
Living within walking distance made this event totally accessible for our family and most of Brighton. Preston Park is a lovely setting for an event like this, plenty of parking, including some free if you take time to find it, and easy access to train and bus routes. It’s a shame more of the park wasn’t used for Together The People as there was little space for the kids to run around and there was also no escape from the sound systems or loud fun fair for little ones.
The facilities were very well maintained with disabled access and tap water easily available (luckily as no food or drink allowed on site). In fact, we didn’t queue for anything other than a couple of minutes at the bar all weekend.
Brighton has so many excellent independent food providers and many of them were at Together The People under the Street Diner banner. We certainly didn’t go hungry over the weekend but the ‘no food or drink’ gate policy meant that an average family of 4 were spending around £100 just to eat and drink. Pretty standard for a festival but worth noting. On Sunday we noticed a family literally stuffing food in to their kids before they had their bag searched.
Prices wise the food was standard festival prices. We didn’t notice kid’s menus at many of the stalls but the favourite £3 Twisted Chip plus £3 kid’s burger from Big Eats were reasonable.
Like most kids, mine like to snack. This was tricky when the offering was expensive cakes (very nice mind) or £4 candy floss from the fun fair. I’m happy to spend this but if the ‘no food’ gate policy is going to be so strict then you need to provide healthy alternatives guys.
Favourite food amongst families we were with were Carlito’s Burritos and very friendly and accommodating Thai Angel. With around 20 food stalls you certainly wouldn’t go hungry. It was great that there were no queues and there was something for everyone.
After a summer on the road it was lovely for us to be back in Brighton and catch up with friends and see familiar faces. The organisers had worked hard to try and involve some local charities like Gig Buddies and Brighton Housing Trust but it would have been great to see a few more Brighton good causes as the event was billed as being ‘socially aware’.
Caroline Lucas was one of many local speakers who took to the Soap Box stage and she received an enormous Brighton cheer when she popped on to the main stage. We didn’t get to see much of the ‘Soap Box Presents’ as it was virtually impossible to find out what was on when unless you forked out for an overpriced programme (if you could track them down). If you must charge for listings on top of festival tickets then at least make them available at the gate. We don’t need fancy plastic lanyards, a simple piece of paper, something on the website or even an old fashioned black board will do!
Which brings me to the negatives
I’m not sure what ‘accessible for all’ was supposed to mean in the event bio. To us, this should mean that an event is affordable for the average family. Things were looking great with the ‘free kids under 11’ and teenage weekend price of £40. For a young family this meant that you could enjoy a full weekend of family entertainment at £150 for a 2 parent family or £75 for a single parent family.
With so many top class musicians the price sounded like excellent value. Sadly, we spoke to one family late on Saturday who said they had weekend tickets but were not planning to return on Sunday as they had spent £150 in one day. This does sound extravagant but when you add up 2 meals a day, over-priced fun fair rides, craft activities (averaging £4) and the odd lager (£4.50 for a can) or cocktail (£7) it’s easily done.
Another single mum I met in the cinema explained she had particularly fussy children and struggled to feed them. She felt embarrassed that she had ‘smuggled in’ a few snacks so they wouldn’t starve and also felt annoyed at the lack of free things for the kids to do once inside.
The strict ‘no re-admittance’ policy was obviously to discourage people leaving the event to either pass on wrist bands or go and buy food or drink outside the event. Generally the security were a little over the top and even took a friends camping chair off them (not allowed on site apparently).
We totally appreciate that events need to make money and we thought the food and drink on offer was excellent but this policy needs to be considered for families in the future. Baby food was allowed, and when the security lady tried to take an apple from my bag I promptly told her it was for an infant and was able to keep it. Other than chips, ice-cream, cake and candy floss there was little for children to graze on so if the policy is staying then at least invite a local fruit provider to provide an alternative to fun fair crap.
THE FUN FAIR
A big no no as far as Festival Kidz families are concerned. Making the main attraction for children at the event an overpriced and noisy fun fair is never going to be popular with parents. With around 6 rides at £3-£4 a go plus hook a duck (£3!) and random other tacky bits it was easy to think you were at the Fair and not a festival. A huge shame as I spoke to several parents who said they were loving Together The People but they wouldn’t bring the kids again.
Even some of the biggest UK festivals only have 2 or 3 funfair rides and the ‘scream if you wanna go faster’ type of rides do not replace entertainment for older kids. Less noisy rides to battle with the stages like a helter skelter and a bouncy castle would have been sufficient for the number of kids at this event. My kids would of course disagree and my 5 year old certainly got her value for money out of £3 on the Crazy House. She spent about 15 minutes in there and in the end the guy turned all the moving bits off!
The activities on offer were actually really good. Unfortunately they were all quite expensive so the kids didn’t stop asking for money. Not wanting to say no to everything we made them choose. My eldest made some lovely earrings for £4 and her friend did a spray paint record £5. Both lovely things to do but over in 5 minutes so they wanted to move on to the next thing.
Having spent years at festivals we have seen some amazing free activities for kids to immerse themselves in for hours. What a shame there was nothing on offer here. There are so many creative parents in Brighton I’m sure they would be falling over themselves to provide a free activity in exchange for a weekend ticket. It really doesn’t cost much to put out the odd bag of clay, bits of junk or even just a black wall and some pens. Poor show. Yes, Together The People did offer creativity, but all at a price. You can always spend all day saying ‘NO’ but perhaps this is the price you pay for free kids entry.
We did find 3 free activities over the weekend. Hula hoops and a few circus skill bits to try (next to a stall of course) and a football game. The kids liked the promo VW camper which a guy was taking small polaroids out off but he seemed to pack up by 2pm – possibly to get away from our kids!
There were a couple of preschool music sessions from a local provider but the main billed attraction for kids were 2 stage shows on the second stage.
All the kids with us tried to watch the Horrible Histories Live show on Saturday but it was in a tent rather than an open stage so very hard to get near. We did manage to squeeze our way in but couldn’t see much and the noise level was unbearable for little kids. The 2 billed children’s shows were on the second stage which was ridiculously placed right opposite the main stage so Horrible Histories clashed with Ghost Poet. The sound engineer was clearly trying to make up for the clash so we decided to get out of the tent. I am partial to a heavy bass line but it isn’t necessary for a kids show. My kids have spent plenty of occasions in front of ground shaking speakers but I thought I’d spare them this time!
We really enjoyed Cat in the Hat LIVE on Sunday. After missing most of Horrible Histories we got there early and sat on the floor. The show is wild and wacky and really brings Dr Seuss to life. We did notice a sign had been added to the front of the stage ‘Ear plugs available at the sound desk’. Still loader than it probably needed to be for little ones, but at least it didn’t class with main stage.
SOUND CLASS / NOISE LEVELS
Unfortunately all the other music venues were tented so you had to be right inside to avoid sound clash anywhere on site. The event didn’t offer anywhere to sit quietly so I probably wouldn’t recommend it for babies or children that don’t like noise.
The main stage and second stage were far too close and the scheduling seemed to clash totally. We actually enjoyed the occasions when there seemed to be nothing on either stage. As there was a big group of us we had to opportunity to play games with the kids and actually hear them.
The fun fair had pop music on every ride so there were often 3 or 4 different music’s at the same time and the acoustic stage (some excellent musicians I felt rather sorry for) had no chance.
Thanks to the Seagulls in Preston Park I can’t imagine there was much for the crew to clear up after this event. Other than the confident birds dive bombing the odd left over food plate I saw little evidence of recycling. Perhaps it was sorted after the event? Knowing Brighton councils black box policy I expect not, but in this day and age of event management this is a basic – especially in Brighton. I fear rather a lot of disposable plastic cups are heading to Newhaven incinerator this week.
WOULD WE GO AGAIN?
We had a great weekend with the family at the first Together The People watching some top class music and up-and-coming local bands. It was a well organised event with so many excellent performers it was a feast for any muso.
Yes, we’d go again. I’m confident that the organisers are working on the teething problems and the entertainment for kids to become a true ‘family friendly’ event in 2016. We wish the Together The People crew a huge success for the future and hope it does become a socially aware flagship event accessible for all.
Have a look at the factsheet for more info on 2016 Together The People.
Reviewer: Sarah Ryman and family