Union Statement: 'Low Risk' Events

On Tuesday 27 August 2019, the Students’ Union was made aware of a change.org petition seeking to make one night a week at the SU strobe-free.

As an organisation, we strive for inclusivity and equality in everything we do, and seek to fight for the rights of marginalised groups across campus. We take our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 very seriously and we will always make reasonable adjustments to ensure all the services and activities we run are as accessible as possible. This extends to the lighting provision within our venues and we want to make sure all the facts are available while also letting you know the work we’re doing to make our event nights more accessible.

Responding to student feedback

Last year, following the submission of a Bright Idea regarding the introduction of ‘strobe-free’ nights at the Students’ Union, we met with a student who suffers from photosensitive epilepsy to understand their needs and attempt to create events that would mitigate the effects of our lighting setup when they attended our venues.

Based off these discussions, we re-mapped our lighting rig to the requested specification, and a number of our events were subsequently designated as ‘strobe-free’. Unfortunately, during one of these events, another student suffered a seizure. This highlighted the range of triggers for individuals suffering from epilepsy and how each individual is affected in different ways by lighting and the strobing effects from the crossover of lighting beams. Due to this, we understand there is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy and the nights previously incorrectly labelled as ‘strobe-free’ have since been updated to ‘low risk’.

We are keen to stress that we don’t have any strobe lights in the Union Venue; we have a pre-programmed intelligent lighting system which consists mainly of rotating heads. While the speed of the pattern can be controlled locally, the pattern design cannot. The lights are capable of reproducing strobe effect, but this functionality is not used at any event, unless specifically requested by a student group as part of a production or an artiste as part of their recognised show plan. Cross over of light beams are mitigated wherever possible, however due to the requirement to site lights for productions, there are some areas where cross over of beams is unavoidable.

Why is the lighting set up the way it is?

The SU building was constructed in 1987 with a fixed truss installation. Access to the truss is provided by the use of a tallescope which is labour intensive and means that lighting sited within the truss takes a significant amount of time to relocate. As a consequence the location of lights is prioritised to provide support for society productions first, nightclub operations second. It is this prioritisation of student group needs that defines the location of lights within the truss and has an impact on the lighting designs for the nightclub operation.

What we’re doing

Currently we are not in a position to change the truss on which our lighting is located but we are working closely with lighting specialists to understand how our system can be re-mapped to mitigate as much risk as possible.

Carrying on from the programme that started last year, we have allocated nine events as ‘low risk’ in our term one calendar, including three events during Freshers’ Festival. For these events, no intense flashing will take place, slower colour changing movements will be introduced and the rotation speed of the intelligent heads will be reduced. Where possible, the size and shape of the colour beams will be altered to reduce crossovers.  

Details of these nights were due to be announced on Friday 13 September when we reveal the rest of our term one events programme, but in light of the recent petition we’ve brought this forward. Our Welcome Weekend events in the Union Venue were designated as ‘low risk’ to recognise that new students may not be aware of issues that affect them, or may not be able to correspond with the SU prior to their arrival at the event. Further information will be available on the event pages with signage located on entry.

Our ‘low risk’ events calendar:

21/09 – Freshers’ Party (Union Venue)

22/09 – Foam Party (Union Venue)

26/09 – Rainbow Rave ft. Petty Nonsense (Medicine)

09/10 – Come In Your Kit (Union Venue)

23/10 – Come In Your Socs (Union Venue)

28/10 – Total Apocalypse ft. Humans vs Zombies (Medicine)

22/11 – POP! ft. 80s, 90s, 00s (Union Venue)

06/12 – POP! ft. SOAP (Union Venue)

09/12 – Xmas on Toast (Medicine)

These events have been chosen as a mix across the Students’ Union and Medicine and incorporate a number of our biggest events such as Come In Your Kit. We understand the desire for student input in this decision making process and under the new democratic system this will be possible through the Entertainment and Events Service Development Group (SDG).

Unfortunately, as these groups don’t go live until the new academic year, it would have been impractical to attempt this dialogue through other means and instead, the ‘low risk’ programme was developed in consultation with our elected Sabbatical Officers. In future, the events programme (including which should be allocated as ‘low risk’) will be incorporated into the business of the SDG ensuring a wider body of students have a say.

One area where this may not be possible is when we book talent to perform within the venues. When doing this, we identify that there is a ‘no strobe’ environment and the support of the tour management is appreciated. However, it should be noted that where significant investment has been made by the talent to create an interactive light show for their performance, it is out of the Union’s control and forms part of the artist’s contract terms.

With regards to student group events, if the request is made for the night to be 'low risk' then we will ensure this happens. We do not bar groups from creative control in relation to this, and we work closely with all groups to ensure that we can deliver events to their stated brief including any lighting requests that they have.

Further to introducing our calendar of ‘low risk’ events, over the summer we have purchased a number of photochromic glasses (optical lenses that darken on exposure to specific types of light of sufficient intensity). These can be loaned from the Students’ Union on event nights free of charge and can be worn over glasses if needed. If the user has had a positive experience using the glasses they can purchase them at cost price from the Students’ Union. We will be providing more information regarding the process of loaning these glasses in the near future.

As well as this, we are keen to remind students that there are areas at our events that are always ‘low risk’, including Tommy’s Kitchen within the Students’ Union.

Moving forward

Having consulted with Attitude is Everything, it’s clear that the use of strobes and fast flashing lights is an issue across the wider nightclub and venue sector with only a low number of grassroots venues offering strobe-free nights.

We will continue to work hard to accommodate all of our members and to do so that requires an ongoing dialogue with those affected. Every single person working for the Union does so because we’re passionate about improving the lives of Royal Holloway students, and we really are committed to working with students to improve everything that we do.

We’d encourage anyone who does suffer from photosensitive epilepsy to come in and speak to our Venues management team to aid our understanding of how we can potentially mitigate any risks with their attendance at our events in the future.