Yesterday, at a bit of a loose end I went to the Thames Festival on the South Bank. In the last two years I have probably walked along the South Bank 3 or 4 times and here I am doing it twice in one week and not only that but my new blog could now seemingly be named ‘South Bank Stories’.
That aside it was good to be there and I have many happy memories of festivals and concerts along the river going back many years to the free concerts in Jubilee Gardens some 25 years ago (can it really be so long?)
The festival, for those who’ve never been is very big with several bases between Tower Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. There are several sound stages, masses of stalls for buying gorgeous things, bars, food stalls of every description and a whole raft of special events for all including some excellent, innovative and enthralling ones for the kids. Which brings me to my key observation from the event, where were all the kids? Now of course there were plenty around but nothing like the number of adults. In some areas there were more than others, the play areas were well populated but really I would have expected a free major London event to bring in a lot more families so why didn’t it?
One reason would seem to be the cost. Whilst the festival was free and most of the staged events were too the food, stalls and ‘extras’ were really quite expensive. Take the lovely old fashioned Helter Skelter for instance. I understand that whoever owns this thing has considerable costs in transporting it, insuring it, maintaining it etc. But £2.50 for something that lasts a few seconds is a lot of money especially if you have more than one child and in the nature of children one or other of them wants you to go with them.
Add in the now near obligatory face painting, some snacks, water, or juice and a cup or glass or two for the adults and suddenly this free festival is really quite a lot of money. Now of course none of the above have to be purchased. An old fashioned picnic would be a fraction of the cost but who does that anymore? Not many people it would seem. And as so many parents find it hard to say no to their kids for many it seems easier to stay away.
Now I can’t be sure, because I haven’t asked, but for some families perhaps its all just a bit too much effort to get everybody up to London and then deal with the different wants and needs, enthusiasms and disdains of kids used to being highly stimulated by games and machines whilst not being expected to expend any energy. When I walk down my local High Street on a Saturday the majority of the children I see are overweight. Yesterday at the festival I saw no clearly overweight kids at all. I know from taking children on trips with schools how many of them complain bitterly at being asked to walk even a short distance, so many parents probably didn’t even consider a day of walking around as a possibility for their families and perhaps for themselves too.
The third reason that occurs to me why parents don’t go with their children is anxiety. It was pretty crowded in parts and there were a lot of people about. At no point did it feel at all alarming to me but I can imagine that keeping a few energetic kids in sight in such a crowd might be hard. Even harder for those parents who are unable to allow their kids to run about and have fun when there are strangers about. In actual fact the event was very well managed and there were plenty of helpful folk in yellow jackets around to keep an eye on things and keep everyone safe and happy. In such a crowd I think it would be hard for anyone to approach a child in any way that the child didn’t like without being seen by a lot of people. Well supported, caring crowds are the safest places in the world for kids, far safer than open parks or empty streets, what a shame if some parents let their media driven fears of lurking predators keep their families away.
Finally I imagine just not having time is a good reason. Trying to fit all the maintenance and care of a family in around a heavy work schedule must be a nightmare. I read an article the other day by a Mother who had returned to work only 3 days after giving birth with her child in tow. Thankfully this is pretty extreme but it serves as an illustration of how little time many people have to devote solely to their own and their child’s well-being. I meet kids all the time that have a far busier social calendar than me, some as young as 5 or 6. A Mum recently asked me if I thought her 3 year old was old enough for play dates yet! In many highly organised and time poor families a whole day together is a rare luxury.
One of the things that modern kids are not learning as well as other generations is how to behave in social settings around strangers as well as peers. Only today I had to endure two loudly shrieking children chasing each other around and around the coffee house where I had my breakfast without any word from their Mother about appropriate behaviour. Being part of large groups of people teaches children a lot about their world and how to behave within it – as well as being really good fun. So here’s to more festivals and to more families having days out together. Now if we could only have the weather sorted!