Sharon Reuben works for Festival Republic and is the Kids & Family Programmer for Latitude Festival, famed for its laid-back, family-friendly feel, and mix of arts and music. This year's event takes place Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th July 2015 in Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk.
Attending a festival with a child in tow strikes fear into the heart of most parents. Should they be scared?
Not at all; families are at the heart of Latitude and we take pride in providing great facilities, heaps of superb activities and a separate areas for the teens. There’s a fantastic campsite with proper flushing loos, nice showers, washing up sinks, a tuck shop and catering tent, even a paid for Festaxi service to wizz you back and forth from the car park! We know the little ones wake up early so there are activities in the campsite as well, plus a dedicated route into the Children’s Arena that opens ages before the main arena!
In the Children’s Arena we’ve got something for every age right from babies and toddlers; they have free sunscreen, fruit and orange squash, baby bath time, and a microwave to heat food alongside soft play and free tea and coffee for parents! At the other end of the age range, our dedicated Teen Area offers outstanding variety and quality activities that engage them for hours on end.
There are so many families that come to Latitude year on year, so it has a lovely atmosphere…lots of children have friends there that they meet up with every year, it’s quite magical. I just love seeing people enjoying the whole event as a family.
Was Latitude always intended to be a family-friendly festival?
The family focus emerged very quickly. When we were planning the first one nine years ago, Melvin Benn (head of Festival Republic, which started Latitude in 2006) contacted me and explained a lot of people had said they were planning to bring their kids. And it went from there really. I think a lot of parents listen to Radio 4, but still want to rave. They like the arts but also cutting edge music and they want to share it with their children.
We had a strong family presence from year one, and the Children’s Arena was in the same beautiful location nestled between the lake and the forest as it is these days, though perhaps back then it was a quarter of the size! What’s especially lovely is that every one of the local organisations that joined us in that first year have stayed with us throughout: it’s a real highlight for them and they love seeing how the festival has grown with them as part of it.
Lots of other festivals have children’s areas now. What makes Latitude stand out among the crowd?
I felt very strongly from the start that the Kids' Area should be a reflection of the wider festival, so theatre, literature, music, arts and wildlife based activities. I think we set the standard for children’s areas at modern festivals, so we’re always aiming to do better! Having local organisations at the heart of the area is key, plus coming up with a fantastic programme. It’s easy to dress someone up or feature ‘characters’ from TV shows but we’re here in the great outdoors with the potential for excitement around every corner! So at Latitude you could be panning for gold or learning about astronomy, investigating a 'who-dunnit?' with our forensics team or identifying animal bones.
Best of all, our area runs all day from 9am-6pm and has an evening session from 7pm-10pm starting with a kids disco and ending with a fabulous circus and fire show so it’s a really long and packed day, and ALL the hundreds of activities are free. The only thing with a charge is the traditional helter-skelter, and we even subsidise that!
We were the first festival to become an Arts Award Supporter and we have three Arts Award hubs on site to help kids learn about it or take part. It’s all about helping kids to be more confident and get more involved in the arts. It is nationally recognised and at its top level even earns UCAS points, so we’re getting a great response to that.
Finally our Inbetweeners Teen Area is just incredible; split between outdoor wild activities with Greenpeace that take you high in the trees or flying down on zip wires, or learn bush-craft and survival skills – that’s hugely popular. Then Culture Works East and Access to Music have a remarkable programme of workshops, activities and master-classes in media, technology, fashion and music. We have Radio and TV Production, journalism and digital photography groups reviewing the festival with the regional newspaper so their work ends up online and in print! There is fashion including screen-printing and up-cycling. There’s a live stage, film and animation, a fantastic guest illustrator from Marvel Comics and Dr Who, beat boxing – the list goes on, and all free! The feedback from teens and their parents is outstanding, so we know we’re getting it right!
Exploring the natural world is a big element of Latitude. What kind of things can children and families get involved in?
The festival site is the most stunning I’ve ever seen; the ancient forests, the lake with dragonflies flitting across, huge ferns and areas hidden away in the woodland; stunning! In the Children’s Arena we make the most of our location with activities in the woodland, from bush-craft cookery to using traditional tools, exploring for mini-beasts with our resident experts to pond dipping from our custom-made pontoon. Also the entire Inbetweeners Teen Area is hidden in the woodland right next to the lake, so all it’s fantastic activities are hidden just out of sight – you have to head through the Greenpeace log cabin and then it reveals itself…it is so exciting.
What else is new for this year and what are you most excited about?
There’s so much! A restaurant with a difference, six new theatre shows, performers from West End shows teaching choreography and music and a very exciting new woodland crafts area. The Zoological Society of London are joining us and we’re celebrating Alice In Wonderland's Anniversary with Macmillan Children’s Books, plus in the Inbetweeners Teen Area we’ve got a new fashion studio, a DJ Academy, a new photography and film studio plus a new hangout space for teens that just don’t want to leave…basically there’s too much for me to tell you about, here!
What are the packing essentials for attending a festival with children?
Make sure you bring wellies, a blanket with a plastic backing, plus your child’s favourite PJs and acosy blanket. A favourite cuddly toy helps persuade kids to bed, which can be difficult! A little fold down trolley is great for when they are tired but the family want to stay out…you can wheel them along! Ear defenders are recommended if you want to watch the bands with them…and you should – kids love to dance and always rave to me about the bands they’ve seen!
Latitude Festival takes place on Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th July 2015 at Henham Park in Southwold, Suffolk. Check the website for current ticket pricing info. Anyone wishing to stay in the family campsite must have a child of 16 of younger in their group. Find out more at www.latitudefestival.com