Thursday, 31 August 2017

Interview with Parallel London Founder Andrew Douglass

This weekend on Sunday the 3rd of September an accessible event, Parallel London, will be held in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park that will bring together a huge variety of people. They'll be a free family fesitval but also a fun run ranging from 10km to 100m, it's open to everyone regardless of their ability, with no cut off times, everybody running side by side. It's such an incredible event, allowing people like families with a disabled child to come together, instead of being separated apart into disabled and abled. You can run, walk, use a racing wheelchair, powerchair, whatever fits you best really, anything goes!

I recently got the opportunity to speak to the founder, Andrew Douglass, about the event and why he created it!


What made you want to set up Parallel London?

My whole career has been largely within the event industry and 20 years ago I co-founded an agency with my wife, called innovision. Over this time, we have created and produced lots of fantastic events - many at a very large scale.

One of innovision's clients is Red Bull; who support a spinal cord research charity called Wings for Life. When the charity was set up in the UK a few years ago, I was asked if I could help with their events and event strategy. In doing this, I not only learned a great deal about spinal injury; it also brought me into contact with many people I would never have otherwise met. As a result, I made many new friends, but also had my eyes opened to the benefits of inclusivity and the many societal problems relating to disability.

I am a great advocate of the power of live events and shared experience. So, I thought if I could create an event at a very large scale which brings to life and shines a positive light on inclusivity in work, home and play; it can serve as a dynamic catalyst to help society think about and engage with disability in a much more positive way.

What kind of an impact do you think such an event has, especially as sport is so often abled dominated?

Our event format does include a series of fun runs, but we are careful not to position this as sport, as this can be off-putting for many - particularly as sport is so often associated with winning, competition or elite performance. I think this is the same for everybody regardless of their ability. So, our focus is more centred on getting active - with the emphasis on having fun, socialising and having purpose. One example of impact has been my ambition to place more emphasis on what I call 'beneficiaries to benefactors'.  So often beneficiaries are overlooked when it comes to fundraising - but I think with the right environment, encouragement and access there is a small army of people who want to challenge themselves and give back - it's incredibly powerful.

Another big impact is our free family festival - as a series of themed environments which showcases lots of amazing inclusive activities, performances, products and services. Each environment is sponsored by a major brand, as I take the view that brands need to stand up and align themselves with the positive attributes of disability because part of the cultural power of change will be in this alignment.

Why do you think it's important to bring together both disabled and abled people in an event like this?

I think inclusivity and a sense of belonging in society is so important. By bringing together people of all abilities, my hope is that we stop focusing on how we are different but what we have in common.

I believe Parallel also presents a very good opportunity to look at the inner workings of how inclusivity is represented in society and completely flip it on it's head. This can help change the narrative and perception of disability; particularly if the event experience is fun, dynamic, surprising and cool. We can also emotionally connect a wide range of different audiences to a wholly new and exciting experience of disability.

Another important thing to realise is that whilst many people may not have a disability, they may have a lived experience of disability. So, I felt it was important that we design the event as fully accessible, so families, friends and work colleagues can all have the same great experience, regardless of ability.

And so finally, if we can get enough scale with our event, it will encourage more and more people, companies, local authorities and brands to think, behave and act in a much more inclusive way and design more and more accessible environments.

In doing this, we can then fulfil everybody's potential and society will be all the better for it.

Thank you so much Andrew for speaking to me! I completely agree that an event like this can both bring together a wide range of people but also have a far wider effect, influencing how everyone interacts with disability. You can find more details about the event on the Parallel London website.
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