The enthusiasm of the whole team has led to a transformation in audience experience and inclusive communications.
Thanks to Chloe Bridgen, Head of Marketing; Doug Mackie, Ticketing and Box Office Manager; and Philippa Peall, Marketing Officer, for sharing their story.
"We talked through what we’re doing and what we could do better, and ran into things we didn’t even know we weren’t doing that we could improve on. The resources and examples given were a springboard to improve our access services."
Setting the agenda
In spring 2019, team members attended a public workshop led by Spektrix, which formed the starting point for their work around accessibility. Shortly afterwards, they were joined by Client Consultancy Manager Ruth Brown, who led a more focused conversation about access measures and ambitions specific to Opera Holland Park. Invitees in that session expanded from marketing and box office team members to include representatives from every department, including development, production, press and operations. To their surprise and delight, everyone attended - each one bringing input and ideas on how they and their teams could support improvements. That conversation became a regular monthly meeting, and one of the first truly interdepartmental collaborations in a while.
”It seems like a daunting task if you look at it in its entirety. What really helped is the support from Spektrix to bring it into focus – it’s not something you have to do all at once, you can implement smaller portions and not take on a huge risk.”
Ticketing and Box Office Manager
All personally passionate about creating a more accessible experience for their audience members, Chloe, Doug and Philippa were inspired to see so many colleagues get involved and carry the project forward. Keeping in touch with the Spektrix team at the 2019 conference and 1:1 consultancy, their discovery moved beyond practicalities into social models of disability and best practice ideas from the wider industry.
By early 2020, the team felt ready to share their work with audiences. Their space itself posed the biggest challenge - set in the middle of a park, it brought many inherent restrictions, from the lack of disabled parking to flights of 26 steps to many seats. Customers with access requirements were offered half price tickets, but had to call up the box office to purchase them - and given the older demographic of the Opera Holland Park audience, this was limiting the experience of many attendees. In 2020, three new initiatives combined to create a more personal and flexible booking experience:
Customers could identify their own access needs in Spektrix. This would automatically generate an access tag against their accounts, triggering an automated welcome email to reach them from dotdigital, outlining Opera Holland Park’s access policy and details for online booking.
Customers could then book online, gaining automatic access to half-price tickets and selecting appropriate seats from a detailed seating plan, which was updated to include specifics such as the number of steps to each seat.
The website was updated with more detailed access information, including both what was, and was not, possible. This detail enabled people to make an informed choice about their visit, and what was most appropriate for them.
"Access was core to our values, so we’d have got all this set up in the end. But with Spektrix as a sounding board, it was much quicker and easier to get going and do it as well as possible."
Head of Marketing
In a test phase, a few loyal bookers - those who regularly called up on the first day of onsales to reserve their accessible tickets - were invited to a special priority booking period, with the opportunity to try out the process and share their feedback. Many of them were able to book successfully even before their instructions arrived, proving to the team that they’d created a process which was intuitive, accessible and informative.
Building on opportunity
After Covid-19 forced the cancellation of Opera Holland Park’s 2020 season, they reopened in 2021 with a newly designed auditorium, designed to feel even more connected to the outdoors. Performance designer takis created a space that made the audience part of the creative experience, gathering chairs from old productions by Opera Holland Park, Welsh National Opera and others, reducing capacity to 400 seats to help keep performers and audiences secure.
That enforced change brought other benefits for the access team. With 20% of seats now step-free, they restructured their pricing to ensure the full range of price bands were offered with level access. With the team working from home it was more difficult than ever to staff box office phones - so the ease of online access bookings proved a real asset to the team, as well as to audience members.
“One visitor had been coming to our events for years, but had an adult autistic son who she didn’t think would ever be able to join her. She brought him to a Discovery Matinee and he had a great time. They stood at the edge of the space so he could dance and sing along, and enjoy an experience together that they hadn’t thought could be possible.”
Meanwhile, Opera Holland Park launched Discovery Matinees - relaxed, audio described performances, with cheaper ticket prices enabling whole families to attend together at an accessible time of day.
Discovery Matinees went on sale on a slightly different schedule to the remainder of the season, allowing the team to build distinct messaging around them at the point of sale and in pre-event communications. That content focussed on using plain English and pre-empting questions about the experience - setting out the sights and sounds that audiences would experience, creating visual stories and introducing characters. And those efforts paid off for the marketing team too, as they realised the visual content they’d created for their access customers was perfectly suited to their mainstream social media campaigns.
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