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Sensory Friendly Festivals win gold award

Tue 28 March, 2017

Banyule Council has won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Municipal Association Victoria (MAV) National Local Government Innovation Awards for its Sensory Friendly Festivals initiative.

The award was voted on by attendees at the national local government conference ‘Hacktivation: Transforming Local Government in the Innovation Era’ held on 15-16 March.

Banyule Mayor Cr Tom Melican said receiving the award was great recognition of Council’s work to make Banyule more inclusive and to ensure its events were as accessible as possible.

"Despite great need, and much work being done globally, Banyule is the only council, organisation or service that we know of that is attempting such an initiative within a large festival environment. People on the autism spectrum often do not attend public events because of noise, crowds and a lack of facilities catering for their needs," Cr Melican said.

"What is even more heartening than the award, is the feedback we are receiving from parents who are now able to attend our festivals and events with their children. One mother told me that because she was able to find a dedicated quiet space at the Kids ArtyFarty Fest, she and her six year old son were able to spend five hours there, something that would not have previously been possible. Another mother said she was finally able to bring both her daughters, one on the autism spectrum and one who isn’t, to the festival."

Cr Melican said that at the last festival, held on Sunday 19 March, there was sensory friendly programming, a quiet chill out tent, noise cancelling headphones, a sensory specific performance stage, and a map which enabled parents to navigate the festival and know where sensory friendly spaces and activities were.

"It has also been valuable providing volunteers, stall holders and performers with more information about children on the autism spectrum so they know what to expect and how they can make the festival a success for all," he said.

"Our work in this area has developed progressively since 2013 when, with two other Councils, we developed the Sensitive Santa program, enabling children on the autism spectrum to meet Santa in a sensory friendly environment. This program has continued to grow each year, and has been supplemented by not only our Sensory Friendly Festivals initiative, which we piloted last year, but also with a very successful partnership with HOYTS in Greensborough to provide regular sensory friendly film screenings.”

Cr Mary Lalios, MAV President said it was critical for councils to explore new-age thinking and innovative business models for the betterment of the local government sector.

It is estimated that one in 100 Australians are on the autism spectrum. Banyule City Council should be applauded for identifying a sector in their community that required greater services and using innovation to supply this demand.

Cr Lalios said the MAV's Hacktivation conference was designed to challenge the conventional way of thinking, especially around customer engagement, organisational structure, strategy and business models.

"We're in a time of change, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet the needs of our communities with limited budgets and resources. And, communities are expecting faster and easier services. To keep up we need to find new ways of doing things. It is critical that local government embraces innovation and new technology."