Two and a half years ago, as part of our #CNB365 campaign I wrote a blog about something that I felt was fundamental to the success of Culture Night, something that was very often lacking in the way people programme events in Belfast – being family friendly. That doesn’t mean ‘having something for the kids’, by family friendly I mean something that adults and children, families, can all enjoy together.
I’ve been thinking about this blog again recently because we’ve just completed a really lovely experiment with The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in their Out to Lunch programme which looked at these issues. All Ages Out to Lunch took three of our events which normally take place in an over 18 bar environment, Midweek Magic, Real Sketchy and Faculty Film Club, and on consecutive Saturday afternoons adapted them for an ‘All Ages’ setting in the Black Box Green Room. We didn’t change much, just gave some thought to how we populated the programme. The formats remained essentially the same we just tinkered with the content. All three events were hugely popular and ultimately successful, and the thing we were most pleased with was the variety of the people attending. We had families, but also young people without adults and adults without children – the content stood up as something that adults and under 18s both enjoyed in their own right. That is how you should judge a family friendly event and we’d love to do more but provision (and to be frank, a basic understanding of the issues) is still lacking at almost every level.
The blog I’ve reposted here is essentially about my (continuing) disappointment at how we treat our children. In city planning, in citizenship, in service provision (both public and private) that we treat children as something to be managed, to be contained not people in their own right…
As a father of three kids (11, 9 & 5) (edit: +2 now) it’s always been important to me that Culture Night is ‘Family Friendly’. This had certainly been the case before I came on board and it was one of the things that most attracted me to the gig. But Family Friendly is a term which is bandied about with gay abandon all the time now, but what exactly does it mean?
What really gets on my nerves as a parent is the sort of thing that is lazily labelled as Family Friendly these days. It is not a bouncy castle and some face painters. It’s not something for the teenagers that the parents won’t like. It’s not inherently alcohol free. It’s Family Friendly, the whole family – something that I can enjoy with my children. As a programmer I appreciate that this is a challenge, it’s not easy
One of the things that people say about CNB is that it makes Belfast feels like a proper city, a continental city. One of them places that you go on holiday, y’know like with all them continentals swanning about being cool – except with Belfast people.
Why is that? Well I have a theory. It’s because the families are out. It’s because there is a mix of people out enjoying the city, not just people getting wasted. We do this thing in Belfast where we section off the drinkers, stick them in the ‘drinkie’ part of town and let them have at it. It’s no place for families and certainly no place for children, there’s drink there after all.
Now to be absolutely clear I’m not advocating for children to be allowed in to pubs after 8, or suggesting that children should be exposed to excess drunkenness, or that parents should act irresponsibly when caring for children. But I do think that one of the reasons why Culture Night feels different is because there is a mixing of families and drinkers. It completely changes how the area feels and I believe reduces anti-social behaviour. Alcohol is a part of life, we need to teach our children about it and not just hide them away from it.
In general terms though, as a city, Belfast isn’t child friendly and its certainly not family friendly and no amount of lamppost dressing will change that. We need areas, activities and events that the family can enjoy together something that I believe Culture Night is a perfect example of.
Two and a half years later and very little has changed.