4. Interviews - Venues

Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey
Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey

Interviews were conducted with the managers of ten venues (either dedicated cinemas or mixed-use venues) from around Wales, in order to gauge the general provision for screenings for families with disabled children and to highlight some of the issues that might be faced with the organisation of these screenings.

In each case, the participants were asked to describe the extent to which they provided such screenings and to suggest areas in which improvements might be made. All of them had some experience of running events for children with disabilities, and were willing to continue doing so, but there were some barriers to this.

Existing Screenings

Regular screenings

Screenings arranges via partnerships

The types of screenings that venues had arranged in the past varied between ones that the venue themselves had arranged, and ones that had been arranged by external partners (charities, services or local support groups). One dedicated cinema venue had regular (monthly) screenings run by the local branch of the National Autistic Society (NAS). Rather than charging for tickets, the venue charges the NAS for the cost of the screening fee, and the NAS arranges the audience. The venue is staffed by volunteers, so there are no staffing costs. The given reason for the NAS originally approaching the venue was they felt that, at the time, the local large chain cinema didn’t have suitable provision (they have since signed up to the Autism Friendly scheme run by Dimensions and described above) and they wanted to support a local cinema:

“I think they felt that a local cinema with friendly, approachable people that made you feel welcome was the way to go for them.”

For these screenings, the venue works closely with the local NAS co-ordinator to ensure the safety of the families. The staff at the venue don’t have any specific autism training, but liase with the parents to support the needs of the individual children.

“We tend to seek the advice from the parents. They’re quite interactive with us…it’s such a laidback and friendly environment. No-one has ever told us ‘don’t speak to him like that.’ It’s all taken as it comes”     

Screenings arranged by venues

Other regular screenings are arranged by the venues themselves. One mixed-use venue runs regular ‘relaxed screenings’ every Wednesday morning at 11am:

“many cinemas call such a screening ‘autism friendly’, but we call it ‘relaxed screening’, because we feel it’s more inclusive of lots of different kind of people.”

These relaxed screenings do not cater specifically for families but are, instead special screenings of films that are already part of the weekly programme, held using ‘autism friendly’ conditions. 

One of the interviewed mixed-use venues has a regular Kids Club screening on a Saturday morning. One idea they are considering is to run an autism-friendly alternative on a Saturday afternoon as a cost-effective way of catering to a more specific audience. Booking a single title and arranging two screenings of it on one day is a cost-effective way of catering to two separate audiences. 

Special screenings

Some venues that do not run screenings as part of the regular cinema programme may do so on an ad-hoc basis, such as screenings held by Contact A Family (discussed in more detail later in this report). In these cases (as with the regular screenings arranged in partnership with outside organisation discussed above), responsibility for marketing and audience attendance lies with the organisation or individual hiring the cinema for the one-off event, and all the venue has to do is provide the space and staff. Ticket prices for these events vary, but tend to work on the same basis of the regular screenings, with the outside organisation paying a fixed fee for the hire of the venue.

Issues (Venues)

Amongst the venues interviewed, it was clear that the issues they faced in providing screenings were common, despite differences in venue size and location, and whether they were a dedicated cinema or mixed-use venue. 

Difficulty in marketing

The single greatest issue facing venues was the difficulties that they experienced when marketing events to families with disabled children and organisations that worked with disabled people. The reason for the venues experiencing these difficulties ultimately came down to not having enough employee-hours to effectively market to families.

“That’s the main thing, the time to make something work and to market it.”

One cinema, recounting a conversation that she had with a representative from a partner charity, with whom they worked to put on screenings recalled:

“According to him, they really have to push push push push push. People will sign up okay, but then they drop off if they’re not reminded and reminded and reminded. This is one of the things that we need to take on board…we totally need to up out game with contacting people repeatedly. Don’t just rely on one email. One email will not do it.”

Lack of suitable titles

Several of the venues interviewed mentioned that they found it difficult to find suitable family-friendly titles. This was because there are very few available titles that can appeal to a wide range of ages and to both boys and girls.

“Some [audience members] are only three. Some are sixteen. You can’t always find a suitable movie.”

Small audiences

For most of the venues spoken to, many of the screenings that they put on for families with disabled children have very small audience numbers, which makes them hard for the venues to justify from a financial standpoint. This is because the cost of putting on a screening involves not just the price of the film, but also the overheads of heating, lighting and electricity, as well as (for those venues that aren’t staffed by volunteers) staffing costs.

“To be frank, I can’t really justify putting on a special screening for people, and paying extra staff, unless we can guarantee that people are going to come.”

“The overheads for a single screening are about £50, just for lighting, heating, staffing.”

Limited wheelchair access

Some older venues have limited numbers of spaces for wheelchairs. Even for the Contact A Family screenings, where parents are able to book in advance, this has been a problem, as there are rarely enough wheelchair spaces for young wheelchair users. This could potentially be even more of an issue with regular screenings, because families can just turn up on the day of the screening without booking in advance. 

“The one restriction that we’ve got is that we’ve only got enough space for three wheelchairs, if anybody wanted to use them”

A related problem is the placing of wheelchair spaces, which tend to be at the front of the auditorium. For some young wheelchair users with mobility problems, this could mean not being able to see the screen properly, or at all.

“One of the things that we’ve got in the pipeline is to improve our wheelchair access, not into the building, but in the auditorium. We’ve got raked seating, and the front row comes fairly close to the screen. When wheelchair users come in, they’re right at the front, which is not great at all.”


Some of the venues spoken to have had official disability or autism awareness training (although they didn’t specify who delivered this training), but many hadn’t, instead picking things up on the job. For those venues that run regular events for children with disabilities, they get to know the parents and speaking to them about their children on an individual basis. This contributes to the community-focussed atmosphere that is central to the appeal of local, independent venues:

“We tend to seek the advice from the mother or father, they’re quite interactive with us, the parents. It’s such a laid-back, friendly environment. None of them have ever said to us ‘don’t speak to them like that!’ It’s all taken as it comes.”

Venues were keen to have some training, but expressed concern about where or when that might be. Whilst Wales is not a large country, it can take many hours to travel from one end of it to the other. Venue staff are already overstretched, and simply cannot afford the time to travel long distances to attend training sessions:

“I might [attend training], depending on where it is. Time-wise, I find it difficult to attend things”

One respondent mentioned that a practical handbook would be helpful. This would be a relatively cost-effective way of providing useful information for venues that would like to provide more screenings for families with disabled children:

“A little handbook of do’s and don’ts. All of these little venues like ours, we’re all running backwards, so anything to make our lives easier.” 

Building links with charities

As mentioned previously, many special screenings occur as a result of a partnership being formed between the venue and a local charity. One of the issues that venues have with developing (and keeping) audiences is getting the contact details for parents with disabled children, and letting them know about upcoming events. Many venues have mailing lists, but they do not have details about whether families have disabled children or carers. Neither can they access the details for families from local charities, because of data protection laws:

“It’s building the links with the organisations and agencies that have those links (with families). I know that if I arranged an event for families of children with autism, I might not have had 250 people coming, like I do (at a screening) this afternoon. But because I’ve partnered with a local carer’s service, they’ve got the relationship with the families.”

One respondent suggested that families come to some of their screenings because of a familiarity with the partner charity, rather than with the venue.

“Most people come to Contact A Family screenings because of the familiarity with Contact A Family, rather than the venue”

Go back to 3. METHODOLOGY