Going out with friends, enjoying live music or dancing in a nightclub are some of life’s pleasures. Clubs are now opening their doors to those with access needs with inclusive events taking place up and down the country – because being disabled shouldn’t mean you miss out on a night on the tiles.
In the 90s, as Danish singer Whigfield plaited her hair and sang about Saturday nights, clubbing was born. Granted, going out socialising with your friends over a drink with loud music blaring wasn’t a radical thing to do, but the decade definitely added a little something to the mix. As the youth went out to party, meet new people and forge memories, disabled people may not have felt as welcome, or as safe, on the club scene. That was until an underground movement surfaced, bringing authentic inclusive club nights to all.
When a new member joined community group Life You Choose, the doors to the clubs started to open. The not-for-profit arts and multimedia group encourages the creative flare of their members to flow freely with opportunities to make films and get involved in live performances, alongside making music. Matt Berry not only wanted to make music when he joined Life You Choose, he wanted to be a DJ. “He is very much interested in music. Through discussions, we were talking about doing a disco and then it became apparent Matt liked dance music. We wanted to try and do something more modern – we always try and do more modern things,” explains Nicola Woswick, Life You Choose co-founder.
From discussions to reality, Matt and Life You Choose worked together to host one of the first inclusive club nights in the UK. Getting to grips with performing and DJ-ing was the first hurdle and one which Matt embraced. He says: “At first, it was really hard, but I got used to it.” And with the help from Life You Choose co-founder Ken Smith, the tracks were ready to be dropped for excited club-goers.
As the music fills the club, friends get to spend time together and everyone has an exciting night out. There’s no denying that inclusive club nights are the way forward. Part of growing up is discovering new places, having new experiences and, let’s face it, going out clubbing – so why should disabled people miss out?
Just because someone is living with a disability – be it physical, sensory or learning – doesn’t mean enjoying the same events or experiences as able-bodied people is off limits. Inclusive nights out are more about allowing those moments to happen in a safe environment.
“We talk to them very openly; we’re not trying to mollycoddle anyone or keep them in cotton wool or keep them away from everyone else. We just want to make sure they feel comfortable and if they feel comfortable there, go to a real nightclub,” says Ken. “A lot of parents, carers and friends of those with a learning disability have said it’s very unique and modern thinking, and we’re dragging the care industry kicking and screaming into the future. That’s the feedback we get all the time – this is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Feedback about the club nights has been exceptional. So positive in fact, that the nights are now a regular occurrence every quarter. Why is this a good thing? “Everyone has the right to party. I want our club night to grow and get bigger,” says Matt. And with their recipe for success, it looks like the only way is up.
Part of the victory comes from the undeniable need for inclusive nighttime based events, from clubbing to going to live gigs. Living with a disability can be seen as limiting for some and that can cause isolation and a sense of being left out. Nicola explains: “In the day centre, people build relationships but then get put into different groups and don’t see each other outside. For me, the social aspect is missing, a safe place that they can go and have fun with their friends – they’re missing a lot.”
The club nights are a simple yet effective way to allow young adults and grown ups to experience what we all should be able to – fun. Keeping the experience as close to the original club format as possible, alcohol is also served – because why shouldn’t adults be allowed to have a drink whilst they dance? Ken says: “We’re helping develop their confidence, self-awareness and what they’re actually capable of.”
Life You Choose is running inclusive club nights in the most realistic way possible. There is music, there are lights, there is dancing, there is drinking and there is a group of people having the best night out, regardless of ability. “There is a quiet area, a medium area, and so on for different levels. We’ve got areas where you can socialise, we’ve got people in relationships and they can spend time together. In the middle part, you get the atmosphere a little bit with the dance floor and the lights,” says Nicola. If anyone were to come in off the street, they would see a group of people enjoying a night out with friends, music, and dancing. As Matt rightly expressed, we all have the right to party, and disabilities shouldn’t come with an early bedtime. Time to dig out your dancing shoes.
Life You Choose run regular media and arts projects alongside their club nights. For more information visit, www.lifeyouchoose.org