Deer Shed Festival 4
Baldersby Park, Topcliffe North Yorskhire
19-21st July 2013
Reviewed by the What To Do With The Kids Team
If you have ever tried taking a young family to one of the big-name music festivals in the past, you will know that the festival environment can be quite challenging for kids. Festival sites the size of a small town, toilet facilities of questionable cleanliness, and adults behaving in a way which is far from the example you ordinarily try to set for your sons and daughters.
The creators of the Deershed Festival, now in its 4th year, have successfully created an affordable, family-friendly festival, where kids and parents alike can enjoy music, entertainment, activities and facilities they'll all love, with none of the usual anxieties. And don't let 'family-friendly' put you off if you want to attend without children : the point is this festival features a line-up of acts who are proper, serious artists (you're probably not going to see a stage full of people dressed up as cartoon characters singing to a backing tape). It's the delivery of the entertainment and the overall vibe of the festival which makes it inclusive for everyone, no matter what age.
We'd heard good things about this festival in previous years, and decided to head down to check it out for ourselves this year. We had an amazing time, discovered new artists, enjoyed sets from old favourites, experienced workshops, ate good food and completely chilled out in an environment which was more relaxed and friendly than any other festival we've ever been to.
Here are some of the things we thought were particularly brilliant about this festival:
- The festival arena. It's compact, laid out on a circuit with festival stalls and workshops in the centre. You don't have to walk miles to get from one festival space to another, and it is virtually impossible to get lost. If you're taking older children to the festival in groups of friends, you can give them a little bit of freedom to wander around by themselves without the worry that they'll ever be too far away
- The music. A blend of new on the scene (Sweet Baboo, Stealing Sheep) and established (Edwin Collins, House of Love, Willy Mason). We saw some absolutely amazing artists playing in spaces much smaller than you would find at other festivals, which is a real bonus. And to see the music being shared by little ones, teenagers, parents and grandparents, with everyone included and involved, was frankly a very special experience.
- Other acts. We saw stand-up which made children laugh but also had some under the radar jokes for adults (we really enjoyed the Hospital Radio Roadshow), captivating story tellers, and when we were sitting around enjoying the sunshine, too lazy to move, quirky little cabaret acts were wandering around the site for our entertainment.
- Workshops : designed for both children and adults, there were a whole range of workshops running every day, from clay modelling, making robot heads from cardboard boxes (the DS4 theme was 'Machines') to making stuff from plastic plumbing pipes. For us, the best part of this was being able to compare the fruits of everyone's various labours over the course of the day. It was especially funny to see adults brimming with pride and sporting their creations (including robot heads and machine guns made of plumbing pipes) all day, long after the children had lost interest:
- Free toys and games. The site was littered with things for kids to pick up, play with and (ideally) share with their new friends : soft play cubes, hula hoops, a sand pit, bats and balls etc.
- Food and drink : You are most probably going to bring your own supply of food and drink for your weekend of camping, and there is plenty of room within the arena to spread a picnic blanket and set out your stall for the day with a view of the main stage if you so wish. You can't take your own alcohol into the arena, but there are a couple of bars available, and you can also pick up some free drinking water there. If you fancy a snack, there is a whole range of tasty delights on offer from the vendors, reasonably priced by festival standards and with plenty of healthy options available.
- Camping - Like the campsites at all festivals, the pitches are pretty close together as there is limited space. That said, it's ideal for making new friends with your neighbours, and overall the campsite was pretty chilled out. There are separate areas for families and for those attending without children, and there are strict rules in place to make sure you can enjoy the camping experience and get the rest you need to enjoy the festival to the full, such as no stereos allowed, no pets, and no drumming. Camping with a tent is free of charge. If you don't have a tent or if you don't want the hassle of pitching a tent when you arrive, there are a number of ready-assembled tents for hire : book early. Showers, baby changing facilities and a quiet nursing/food warming area were also available on the site.
- Toilets : Without doubt the worst moment of any festival is the inevitable visit to the toilet. And with children with you, you know you are going to spend a fair amount of time visiting those toilets. In the Festival Arena there was the choice of standard loos, which were okay, and also composting eco-loos. While we're big fans of doing the right thing for the environment, we would definitely suggest that the eco-loos are more manageable for teens and adults. We appreciate the ethos but to be honest the composting loos were awkward to use (really not ideal for those needing to sit down) and really stinky. On the upside, at least there weren't any queues for them! Families : stick with the standard loos, there are plenty of them and they are much more pleasant.
- Mr Trolley. This is a stroke of genius. Everything at the festival is perfectly walkable (the car park, the campsite, the arena) however as we all know little feet tire easily, particularly in hot weather. From £5 for 30 minutes to £60 for the whole festival, you can hire a trolley big enough to fit 2 or 3 small children seated or one child lying down. Simple but clever, the trolleys are fun for little children to ride around in and easy for parents to manoeuvre and offer a shaded place for snoozing in hot sun or hiding from drizzle. Depending on how much you are willing to pay, there are also souped-up versions for hire, complete with cushions and fairy lights!
Overall, we absolutely loved this festival for so many reasons, but the most outstanding memory is that Deershed manages to capture all that is great about the festival environment : the sharing of a unique experience, the excitement of discovering new acts and trying out activities you wouldn't normally have chance to, a happy, positive and friendly vibe. But it somehow also avoids some of the negative sides of festival going : there were no spaced out dodgy characters, no drunken, bawdy behaviour, no litter and no rip-offs (although the programme is a bit expensive at £8!).
And most importantly, Deershed creates a space where children, tweens and teens can be introduced to festivals, make new friends, have an amazing time and be safe, while parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents can enjoy themselves as adults, listen to bands, have a few drinks, and have a rest from being the entertainers themselves.
Deershed, you've created the perfect balance. We love you, and will be back next year.
Find out more at http://deershedfestival.com