All you need to know about sensory spaces
Written by Elise (2023 intern)
It’s time to consider making your event or festival more accessible for those who are neurodivergent.
Creating accessibility in events and spaces, particularly when the environment can be overwhelming for many, has become a crucial point in the planning process. Catering for neurodivergent guests widens the appeal of any event, but has often been overlooked or poorly executed. Luckily there has been a lot of talk and press recently with many people advocating for better inclusivity in these spaces.
Sensory spaces are now making their way into the live music and festival scenes and we think that is fantastic progress!
A sensory room or space is a specially designed room which combines a range of items to help people reset and engage their senses. These can include light, colours, sounds, sensory soft play items and aromas, all being used in a safe environment that allows the person using it to explore and interact without risk.
You might wonder, how can a sensory space benefit my event?
If there are punters at a live music event or festival who are feeling very overwhelmed or overstimulated, most festivals don’t allow any ‘pass outs’ this means there is nowhere for them to go and regain a sense of calm that is within the festival grounds, which can most times lead to feelings of anxiety and distress. This would mean that their only option would be to leave the festival for a remainder of the day, which does not benefit the event organiser nor the punter themselves.
Having sensory spaces included in festivals can provide an area which creates a sense of calm that only the user in that time can feel, the user of the space can take what they need to from it in order to feel calm, safe and comfortable. These spaces will help reduce stress and anxiety to assist in the self-regulation of calm at an event.
Let’s take a look at what steps you can take to create a sensory space:
Identify your goal: What are you trying to achieve by creating this space?
Location, Signage and Accessibility: Do you have a quieter space in your venue? Could you revamp a storage room? Is there clear signage to show punters where and how to access this space? Is the space accessible for all? If you do not have the space, can you create a sensory pack?
Noise Reduction: Noise canceling headphones are a must! https://calmstore.com.au/product/hearing-protector-27db-for-adults-or-kids-great-for-autism-lightweight-foldable-various-colours/?attribute_colour=Blue&gclid=Cj0KCQiAjbagBhD3ARIsANRrqEsNaWVpzyOUeGk4itOoqSPPCvbrBIWdAxWuqOljZv5YzrgPNzSXt0YaAkrKEALw_wcB
Items and Set up: What kind of items will you have in this space and how will you set the space up? Some great items for a sensory space are linked below:
Bean bags: https://therapyblanket.com.au/products/therapy-pod?currency=AUD&variant=29439934365719&gclid=Cj0KCQiA6rCgBhDVARIsAK1kGPIEXxmdSiHoN-axAC7f13j9nEuXFpk6hAtZTmB5KLdi-b7L8fWdHYAaAqdvEALw_wcB
Optic fiber lighting: https://theraplaykids.com.au/products/2-metre-budget-fibre-optic-light-system?variant=43562182017275¤cy=AUD&utm_medium=product_sync&utm_source=google&utm_content=sag_organic&utm_campaign=sag_organic
Tactile fidgets: https://sensoryspace.com.au/collections/fidgets-1
Weighted blankets: https://therapyblanket.com.au/products/therapy-blanket?currency=AUD&variant=27846449233943&gclid=Cj0KCQiA6rCgBhDVARIsAK1kGPK6l_OBF2jCQwHEpIcmmuptWjZkJeAI3zB8TbWZ_E97S6G11HwPQa0aArexEALw_wcB
4. Support Staff: Making sure there is trained support staff present within the space to provide help where needed. 5. Water: H20 of course! 6. Budget: What is your budget for this sensory space? Can you spend more in order to create the best possible space? 7. Calm Energy: You want to ensure there is a calm vibe within the space. You want punters to leave the space feeling refreshed and ready to rejoin the event!
With sensory spaces becoming more and more common in the live music space here are some examples of events and venues where you can find a sensory space:
Groove Tunes - Melbourne (of course!) Marvel Stadium - Melbourne
(ALT TEXT: A room with dark chocolate brown carpet and cream walls, there are two large red bean bags in the corner with a pixelated picture on the wall behind them. On the wall adjacent to it is some fidget and problem solving toys / activities which are mounted onto the wall with a TV mounted above them on the same wall).
Sofft Nights Festival - Navan, Ireland
(ALT TEXT: a rocky cave in the shape of a dome, with a dark sand floor, there is a built in fire pit in the ground with a lit fire in it. There is chairs surrounding the fire with people sitting in them, and there is a man standing in the middle next to the fire who appears to be story telling).
Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
(ALT TEXT: An enclosed room with grand stand style stairs that have green carpet on them, the floor is a mix of dark and bright green with white stripes going in a diagonal direction. There are the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 painted along the floor like lanes. There are two bean bags on the floor, one teal green and one is black. One wall is green and has a picture of a sports team huddling together painted on it. The other wall is made out of wooden panels and has a long wooden cupboard which runs along the bottom of the wall, there is a TV mounted onto this wall above the cupboard. There is lots of tactile fidgets throughout the room and there is a girl with dark blonde hair in a faded pink shirt and black pants sitting on the bottom step watching the TV).
Ability Fest - Melbourne
Adelaide Entertainment Centre
(ALT TEXT: There is a room with brown carpet and cream coloured walls, there is a wooden cupboard that runs along one of the walls with a vase and red / orange tulips in it. There is a painting on the wall opposite, and there are red and blue mats on the floor running parallel to each other. The red mat has one black and one red bean bag on it and a mesh pop up crawl tunnel. The blue mat has two lime green balance half-balls on them and a wooden rocker. There is a 10 news logo in the top left corner of the picture and a news headline running along the bottom that reads: Sensory Room; Adelaide 36ers Create Sensory Room for all Home Games).
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
(ALT TEXT: There is a room with black carpet and white walls and a white ceiling. There is a TV mounted on one wall and a painting hung on the other. There is purple optic fibre lighting on the floor along with some black bean bags, there is pink, blue and purple galaxy lighting that is lighting up the room.
Wembley Stadium - England
Qudos Bank Arena - Sydney
Strings Music Festival - Colorado, USA
Brunswick Music Festival - Melbourne
St Kilda Festival - Melbourne
Australian Grand Prix - Melbourne
The introduction of sensory spaces into venues, festivals and stadiums is making the live music space more accessible and inclusive, there is still plenty more work to be done to promote further inclusion and the live music landscape is ever-changing, we are super excited to see more inclusive events in our future!