An international festival is to become the first major event in Wales to provide a special safe chill-out space for people with special and additional needs.
This year’s four-day Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod is back live again to celebrate its 75th anniversary, starting on Thursday, July 7, and will include a dedicated quiet zone at the heart of the Eisteddfod field.
The innovation has come about thanks to the event’s marketing manager, Davina Carey-Evans, who founded PIWS – Welsh for purple – which aims to encourage businesses and events to improve accessibility for families with hidden disabilities.
Davina, who is also High Sheriff of Gwynedd, is the mum of three boys, one of whom, Benjamin, 27, has severe autism and she has had a lifetime of experience of the difficulties faced by similar families.
She said: “We all think of people with disabilities as having visible stuff but there are lots of people with very different issues, who can get over-stimulated, particularly somewhere with lots going on, and the International Eisteddfod is the first event in Wales to have a dedicated safe zone for them.
“It will be a tent with arts and crafts activities and we’re planning to provide yoga and other well-being therapies but essentially it is a place where when a child or person becomes over-excited they can go there to calm down without being judged by others who don’t understand.
“It’s something that PIWS is trying to encourage everywhere to embrace and the International Eisteddfod with its message of peace is the ideal place to start and it opens up the Eisteddfod to a new audience, families who would not previously have visited.
“The Eisteddfod who will be offering to train their army of volunteers with an introduction to accessibility session, which supports them to understand what they can do to help if someone with an issue like ADHD has a problem.
“I’m really grateful to them for being so innovative because this is something that all organisations, events and businesses will have to recognise in future because they should all aim to have a similar safe space.”
The International Eisteddfod’s embracing of the PIWS project is just one of the ways in which it is evolving as it returns after a two-year Covid gap after being cancelled in 2020.
Last year it was held virtually but on its 75th anniversary it is back with a new emphasis on extending and improving the on-field activities and attractions and outdoors the site will look and feel very different, Camilla King, the Eisteddfod’s new executive producer, has promised.
She said: “It has been redefined and reimagined and our wide-ranging outdoor activities will continue throughout the day and evening until 10pm.
“We’ve also introduced a £5 half-day field admission after 4.30pm and with a full programme of music, dance and activities going on all evening with food and drink on sale, it’s the perfect space for people to bring their picnic blankets and enjoy themselves.
“The outdoor stage will feature music and dance, and a new globe-shaped Geodome will be the hub for spoken word, thought-provoking interviews , comedy and learning from different cultures.
“The Eisteddfod is an essential event where the arts and how they can contribute to peace in all senses of the word meet one another.”
The popular festival which helped launch the careers of opera superstars Luciano Pavarotti and Sir Bryn Terfel had to be cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021 it took on a virtual format with performances streamed online but this year Wales will once again welcome the world to the little town in the Dee Valley.
This year’s festival starts on Thursday, July 7, and culminates with Llanfest on Sunday, July 10, when the Eisteddfod joins forces with the Llangollen Fringe Festival.
Over the four days there will be a host of new attractions and activities on the revamped outdoor site, including music, dance, talks, comedy, food, drink, shopping, workshops and pop-up entertainment.
In the evenings there will be concerts featuring the singing duo of Aled Jones and Russell Watson and Anoushka Shankar, the British-Indian-American sitar player, producer, film composer and activist who is the daughter of renowned musician Ravi Shankar, and half-sister of singer Norah Jones.
The competitions climax on Saturday night with Choir of the World and the contest for the Pendine International Voice of the Future featuring the finest young singers from around the world on the stage where Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Elaine Paige, Michael Ball, Sir Bryn Terfel and Luciano Pavarotti have performed.
This year’s Eisteddfod is a shortened version of previous years but will still pack plenty in with a full programme of competitions in the Pavilion and starting on Thursday with Schools Day and the Young Peacemaker Awards.
Sunday sees the Eisteddfod let its hair down for Llanfest before the climactic final concert.
For more on Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and its competitions and concerts as well as how to get to it and where to stay go to http://international-eisteddfod.co.uk/ or check out https://www.facebook.com/llangollen