Sleepless nights, making sure you’ve chilled the beers in time and keeping your fingers crossed that a major sporting fixture doesn’t clash with your plans are all part and parcel of organising an award-winning indie-pop, rock and dance festival.
Are You Listening? – the biggest event in Reading Mencap’s fundraising calendar – is now in its sixth year and has raised more than £40,000 for the charity.
Held this year on Saturday 28 April at various venues in Reading, its success has exceeded the expectations of organisers Dave Maul and Shane Daunt (pictured below) who spend six months planning each festival after coming up with the concept in 2013.
The fundraising festival won Event of the Year at the inaugural Alt Reading Awards and was nominated for two Pride of Reading Awards and a Reading Cultural Award for Best Festival in 2017.
Dave (below right) said: “Although we felt there was an appetite in the town for an event like AYL we didn't expect it to grow so quickly and become a real focus in Reading's event calendar.
“The general sense that the festival has become its ‘own thing’ has been completely unexpected.”
Marie-Claire Dillon, fundraising manager at Reading Mencap, said the festival is a vital fundraiser for the charity and equally important for raising awareness of learning disability.
She said: “It’s a sad fact that people with learning disabilities are one of the most marginalised groups in society and are frequently ignored, discriminated against or bullied. We want the public to understand that children and adults with learning disabilities are just like us, with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations, and they should be given the right support to reach their potential.
“So AYL is a great opportunity for us to reach out to you, tell you about what we do and ask for your support.”
Volunteers are key to the festival’s success - with around 60 people of all ages - giving up their time each year to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Marie-Claire said: “There’s a lot of work leading up to the event – and the day itself is exhausting. But there’s a real buzz in all the venues and it’s great to see all our volunteers having a good time, not just the festival-goers.
“My colleague Alex is currently working hard on recruiting enough volunteers for the day. We couldn’t run the festival without them. They cover the door throughout the day and evening at the festival venues across Reading town centre, checking and selling wristbands, talking to the festival audience about the day and encouraging festival-goers to make a donation to Reading Mencap.”
Are You Listening? has always been committed to nurturing the local music scene from a grassroots level, with festival policy being to ensure at least 70 per cent of the line-up are from Reading and Berkshire.
This year’s bustling line-up includes local talent Reading hip hop stalwart Ash The Author, electro-blues exploders Vienna Ditto, feisty psych-rockers Vinyl Staircase and local synth-pop heroes Twin Sun.
Dave said: “We plan to continue to improve the festival and for it grow bigger over time while maintaining the quality of the line-up, plus hopefully, raising even more money for Reading Mencap.
“I don't tend to sleep very well the night before and straight after each festival we say never again but we love it really!”
It's all worth it on the day!
It tends to be a bit of a blur for us on the day. However, the atmosphere at our 5th Birthday last year was unbeatable along with the general sense that the festival had become its ‘own thing’.
Seeing our festival portaloos right outside St Laurence Church (one of the festival venues) last year. You can’t have a proper festival without portaloos, right?
Also, last year when the ‘Metro’ newspaper featured AYL as its number one thing to do that weekend. (Marie-Claire is pictured centre).
The lowest point was in 2015 when Reading v Arsenal drew each other in the FA Cup Semi-Final to play the same day as AYL. We showed the game but we didn’t sell as many tickets as we hoped to.
The first time we ran the charity bar in St Laurence Church the beers weren’t cold enough in time for opening, so a few people had to put up with warm beers that year until we got the chilling situation under control!
Don't miss out...
It's the biggest day out in April for any real music lover. Early bird tickets at £20 can be bought from www.areyoulistening.org.uk/tickets
To volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org Volunteers receive a free festival ticket, meal and t-shirt.