9. Recommendations for Film Hub Wales Members

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

Five main areas of improvement were highlighted, and what follows is a series of suggestions of how these areas might be addressed.

  1. Build partnerships
  2. Change attitudes
  3. Provide information
  4. Develop training
  5. Seek funding

Build partnerships

It was clear that the pressures involved in running small venues meant that venue managers felt that they were not able to afford the time or the expense required to run specialised marketing drives targeted specifically towards families with disabled children.

One potential way of addressing this issue would be for venues to form partnerships with local support groups for families with disabled children, be they independent organisations or local branches of larger national charities. Other potentially fruitful partnerships may be developed with local SEN schools, or SEN co-ordinators in mainstream schools, who will already have links with local families with disabled children.

This is something that some venues are already doing, and these were the venues that seemed to be the most successful in putting on events for disabled children and their families.

Making connections such as these can provide venues with a ready-made audience to whom they can market events. The charities, organisations and schools have pre-existing relationships with families, as well as some knowledge of the families’ individual needs. This is of benefit to overstretched venue staff who don’t have access to dedicated mailing lists, and therefore may not have the means to contact the families in the first instance. Having an arrangement with an outside organisation who do have regular contact with families means that the venues can concentrate less on marketing and more on arranging the screenings, and reacting to the feedback given to them by the partner group or the families, making sure that the families’ needs are met. 

A few examples of national charities that have local groups can be found in the contacts section at the end of this report.

Change attitudes

It is one thing to get families through the front doors of the venues, and another thing still to get them to return. Building relationships with family audiences is an important element of ensuring that their cinema visit is enjoyable, and making it more likely that they will come back in the future.  

Following on from Contact A Family’s individualistic approach, accepting that individual families have individual needs, and working together with each family to meet these needs is paramount.

What was striking when interviewing families attending the Contact A Family screening events is how well they responded to the warm and friendly environment at the events. This was initially the result of the general family-centred approach adopted by Contact A Family, but also by the welcoming and non-judgmental response that the families experienced from the venue staff on the day of the screening. This took many simple forms, from a staff member dressing up as a Minion at one of the events attended by the researcher, to having refreshments and activities available for the whole family before and after the screening. Most crucially, and perhaps most simply, it took the form of staff members speaking to families, and many venues who ran more regular events reported this as one of the keys to their success. This is an approach that is unlikely to be adopted at the larger chains, but one that is well-suited to independent local venues, where the focus is often on the local community.

Clearly this is an ongoing process, but venue managers should actively encourage staff to engage with families who visit the cinema, and to offer help and support, even if it is may not be asked for.

Provide information

One of the central focuses of Contact A Family’s booking process is to provide as much relevant information as possible for families that are attending their screenings. This includes such information as parking, disabled toilet facilities and access. This is all information that should be easily accessible on a venue’s website, and that customer-facing staff should be aware of when families get in touch with them. Making this information freely available might require some initial work, but it gives the impression that a venue has considered the needs of families with disabled children, and could therefore make all the difference to a family considering a visit.

Develop training

In part, a change in attitude and the building of awareness among venues of some of the issues affecting families with disabled children can be addressed in part by providing a range of training options. Such training does exist (Hynt and The UK Cinema Association, for instance provide disability awareness training, and Contact A Family Cymru provide relaxed performance workshops, in addition to the Opening Doors workshop support and resources provided by Film Hub Wales), and this training would provide an excellent starting point for venues wishing to explore some of the issues affecting families with disabled children. This is training that is not necessarily targeted to independent cinema venues, though. It is recommended that Film Hub Wales continues to work on dedicated training resources to make it easier for independent cinema and mixed-use venues to learn about some of the issues that might face the families of disabled children. In the short-term this would make it more likely that venues would meet the needs of the families, but in the longer term could perhaps give them some idea of some of suitable marketing tools that might be well suited when arranging events specifically for them. Such a resource could also possible include information about suitable titles, which would address the concern that some venues had about the lack of film choice.

Given the size of Wales, and the fact that some participants mentioned that that it was often difficult for them to attend training sessions, this training could take the form of an online or digital resource, rather than an event that had to be attended in-person.  

To augment this in-person (or virtual) training, it is further recommended that a good practice guide be commissioned, based upon the booking model developed by Contact A Family. This would go some way toward ensuring the legacy of the valuable work that CaF have done during the three years that the Disabled Children, Revitalised Families project has been running. The guide would be made freely available online, and would include guidance on the best ways to speak to families in order to elicit information that venues can use to make their visit more enjoyable.

Seek funding

The tension between having audiences large enough to justify the cost of putting on screenings and small enough to be comfortable to children is a difficult one to resolve.

A potential solution could be to subsidise a large-scale programme of screenings at independent venues across Wales. This programme would be similar to the Contact A Family screening events, but instead of the screenings being arranged by an outside organisation like CaF, they would be primarily arranged by the venues, in partnership with their local organisations. The subsidisation would ensure that venues could keep ticket prices low, which would encourage families to get into the habit of visiting the cinema together. This approach would create a longer time period during which venues could gradually build family audiences.

Having an ongoing programme of screenings would have the additional benefit of addressing the point discussed earlier, of changing attitudes to families with disabled children, as it would normalise the cinema-going experience.  

It is therefore recommended that Film Hub Wales members, possibly in partnership with Contact A Family, submit a group bid to a funding body to request funds to subsidise a large-scale programme of screenings at independent venues around Wales. Potential funders for such a programme might be The Wellcome Trust and the BFI Diversity Fund. 

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