Andrew Douglass is the Chief Executive of the events company “Innovision” and Founder of Parallel London. His team deliver pioneering and creative events for major brands including the BBC, Redbull, the Olympics, Pirelli and Aston Martin. He spoke to Livability about his reflections on inclusion-focused “Parallel London” and the value of events in creating social change.
I have spent most of my career creating and managing large-scale events all over the world.
Real-life experiences shape our preferences and memories. They have a profound effect on us – much more than what we see or read in the media.
For this reason, live events are the most powerful form of marketing – especially if you know how to positively engage audiences. They create connected communities long after the event is over.
They’re also a good opportunity to challenge how disabled people are represented in society and completely change the narrative and perception of disability, particularly if the event experience is fun, dynamic, surprising and celebratory.
Parallel began as I realised I wanted to create an event that was a national celebration of inclusivity.
I became involved with a spinal cord research charity and I became aware of some of the challenges of disability. It was through this charity that I met Lord Shaftesbury. He shared with me his story and his own lived experience of disability. His sense of purpose and his strong desire to continue the legacy of his famous ancestor, the ‘reforming’ Lord Shaftesbury, sowed the seeds of a bold and ambitious idea: to create the world’s first large-scale accessible and inclusive event.
Since then, Lord Shaftesbury has become Parallel London’s patron and was one of the participants who ran on the day.
There was an obvious need for a fully inclusive and accessible large-scale event.
Nowhere in the UK – or the world for that matter – had ever staged an event of this kind. When I did my research I found that a staggering 8 out of 10 people with a disability said they would like to be more active, but day-to- day barriers and attitudes were stopping them.
The biggest challenge to creating an inclusive society is human nature.
Creating an environment where everybody can fulfil their potential, regardless of ability, shouldn’t be difficult. But it is one of the greatest challenges in our society. We are all tribal instinctively and we tend to group together.
Cost is another huge factor – for most businesses, venues, restaurants, attractions and entertainment centres to become inclusive requires significant investment. But people need to start demanding change – if nobody says anything and people still consume their services or products, then there is no incentive to invest.
By using the power of live, large-scale events, we can act as a dynamic catalyst to engage a wide cross-section of society – communities, businesses, brands, government, schools, specialist organisations, charities and families. We can bring to life the positive benefits of inclusivity, whilst at the same time emotionally connecting our audiences to a wholly new and exciting experience of disability.
At Parallel, I was very keen to create a real festival environment and to showcase inclusivity at its best.
We created six themed environments, or zones: Technology, Food & Drink, Community and Enterprise, Family and Active Lifestyle.
Each zone had a main sponsor – Livability sponsored the Community and Enterprise zone. Encouraging mainstream brands to engage was also really important. I think brands need to stand up and align themselves with the positive attributes of disability.
There was so much on offer during the day: film workshops, digital orchestras, live art, pop-up book shops, superheroes, wheelchair rugby, Eagle labs, photography, music acts – Boogie Monsters and Singing Hands and, of course, The Livability Community and Enterprise zone where a giant mural was brought to life by an enthusiastic crowd of participants and visitors.
There was also free ice-cream for everyone, all day!
I have a real ambition for Parallel to become a global movement.
I wanted to secure a sustainable future for Parallel London so it can continue to grow. I worked really hard to secure an initial five-year backing from The Mayor of London’s office and they were really supportive. I want Parallel to become the UK’s national celebration of inclusivity and play a part in driving positive change in our society and around the rest of the world.
I am determined to leave a lasting legacy, which will help the next generations to live in a much more inclusive society.