7. Research Conclusions

Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey
Contact a Family 15th Anniversary event at Chapter, Cardiff. Image © Noel Dacey

Reaching out to families

All of the venue representatives spoken to as part of this research had some experience of arranging screening events for families with disabled children, with varying degrees of success. Several of the venues set up relaxed or autism friendly screenings because of a pre-existing interest in and awareness of disability, either through a family member or a friend. In some cases these types of events have come about when approached by an outside organisation. Many of them had a genuine desire to continue to put on these screenings, and furthermore, were willing to do this without the need to make a profit, merely to break even. The issue from their point of view was that it was often not financially viable to do so, because the lack of marketing resources or staff hours that they had at their disposal meant that they felt unable to adequately market events to specific audiences.

A common issue faced by venues is how to contact families. Many venues have addressed this problem by forming partnerships with local community groups or charities. That way, the charity, who already know the individual families and their individual needs can contact the families and feedback relevant information to the venues. A key part of establishing and maintaining this partnership is to adopt an efficient system of communication. Families with disabled children have a range of individual needs, some of which are hard to predict. With a good communication system these needs can be addressed quickly and competently.

One of the notable successes of the Contact A Family screening event scheme has been the development of a booking system designed to elicit information that can make a visit to the cinema as enjoyable as possible for families with disabled children. This takes considerably more time than the regular process of booking a ticket over the phone or online, but ensures that their individual needs are acknowledged and, where possible, met. This not only makes it more likely that every family will enjoy their visit to the cinema but also that they will feel valued and listened to.

An important point to note is that the communication process extends beyond booking onto the event. With the additional financial and practical pressures that face families with disabled children, coupled with the unease that usually accompanies a trip to the cinema, families may need to be reminded that they have been booked onto an event, so the lines of communication need to remain open, in the form of a reminder a few days before, and the willingness to continue to address any issues that may arise.

Choice of film

Another concern that venues have is that they don’t have much choice in the film that they are able to screen at special events. This is partly due to the wide age range that they are appealing to, and partly because it is often prohibitively expensive to book a film for a single showing, so they usually have to rely on putting on a special show of an already screening film, of which truly family-friendly titles are relatively rare.

Interestingly, whereas venues are concerned that there is little choice in titles, the families seem less concerned about what film they are watching. Instead, they respond to the communal aspect of the screenings, which is helped by putting on food, giving them the opportunity to socialise with other families. The choice of title is a secondary concern to them.

Families feeling judged

All of the families that were interviewed as part of this research were unanimous in their praise for the Contact A Family screenings. What they particularly responded to was the friendly and non-judgemental atmosphere during the screenings, the notion that the other adults in the audience were ‘in the same boat’ as them, and the feeling that their child’s behaviour (and by extension their parenting skills) was not being judged. This atmosphere was partly a result of the individualised approach that Contact A Family values, which involves listening to families, engaging with the whole family, and acknowledging each family’s individual needs, and this approach also extended to the staff at the venues.

Audience size

One of the tensions that this research has revealed lies between the need for venues to have large enough audiences be able to justify putting on screenings, and the need for families to have small enough audiences so as to avoid overcrowding during screenings, which could be distressing for their children.

The strength of independence

Whilst independent venues may not have access to the large budgets of the major cinema chains, what they do have is a sense of community, and small local cinemas often quite rightly pride themselves on serving the needs of their immediate community. The friendly and non-judgemental atmosphere experienced by families at the Contact A Family screenings is something that local venues tend to do automatically, by virtue of them being community-based enterprises. It is by developing and sustaining this welcoming atmosphere that venues can build and keep family audiences.