New mini spectrum festival set to give Derbyshire autistic youngsters a place and space to be

Organisers of the UK’s only autistic-friendly outdoor family festival are set to hold a mini Spring spin-off event to give more youngsters across Derbyshire a fun and safe day out where they “can be themselves”.
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The Spectrum Autism Friendly Festival, which takes place near Matlock each year, has now launched its new Spring Fest, which it is planning to hold at Shipley Park on May 18.

The event, which will be held in The Young People’s Forest at Mead, is aimed at children who are on the autistic spectrum to offer them and their families a safe space where they can enjoy themselves without fearing being singled out and judged by others.

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It will offer pony rides, alpaca walking, sensory play, woodland activities, small animals interactions, a bouncy castle, face-painting, music, a magician, stalls and food and drink.

From left, David, Edward, William and Gemma Hall, the family behind Derbyshire’s annual Spectrum AutFrom left, David, Edward, William and Gemma Hall, the family behind Derbyshire’s annual Spectrum Aut
From left, David, Edward, William and Gemma Hall, the family behind Derbyshire’s annual Spectrum Aut

The original Spectrum festival was launched in 2018 after mum-of-two Gemma, whose sons, William and Edward, are both autistic, was threatened in a soft play centre after William innocently put his arms around another child.

Already used to strangers making comments about her boys’ behaviour and her apparent ‘failure’ to control their meltdowns in public, the incident left her so shaken that she never took them to a soft play centre alone again.

Instead, Gemma and her husband, David, set up Spectrum Autism-Friendly Festivals, which is now a registered community interest company, to offer William and Edward, and hundreds of other children like them, a day of entertainment where they were safe from hurtful comments, strange looks and hostility.

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While it has all of the fun you’d expect of a family fun day, it also has plenty of space and quiet zones for children who would find the noise, colours and activity too overwhelming.

The main Spectrum Festival takes place at Lea Green Activity Centre near Matlock and 850 people attended last year. The numbers are tightly controlled to ensure there is enough space and calm and Gemma is hoping to attract 400 people to the Spring Fest, which she hopes will establish itself as an annual sister event to the main September festival, allowing families living in Amber Valley a chance to enjoy the kind of fun that all children should be able to take for granted.

Gemma, whose family live in Horsley Woodhouse, said: “As far as we know there’s nothing like the Spectrum Festival anywhere else in the country and our families tell us how unique and special it is.

“The incident in the soft play centre was upsetting and traumatic and the amount of looks and comments my sons get when we’re out in public are horrific and it’s horrible to experience.

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“There’s none of that at our festival. It is open to everyone, not just neuro-diverse children, but it’s got a wonderful atmosphere where my children, and everyone else’s can do what they want and be who themselves without worrying about what people think of them.

“There are so many families in our situation and we know it’s not possible for everyone to attend the main festival at Lea Green, so this mini-festival is our way of inviting more people from another part of the county to come along and enjoy themselves.”

William, 15, a student at Aldercar High School, said: “I really do love going to the Spectrum Festivals where I can just be myself and have fun’

“I love going round and meeting people, talking to them about all the activities and what they are enjoying about the day. I’m looking forward to it taking place as it feels so good to be in a place where I can be myself and no one can complain about how I am.”

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Places at the Spring Fest are limited and everybody who buys a ticket for the festival is sent a pack of information telling them everything they need to know in order to prepare them and their children for what lies ahead.

Tickets cost £10 per person and are available from: