So it's that time of year again - 'tis the season of seemingly endless Christmas parties and get-togethers. Throughout December many of us will spend time with our family, friends and colleagues in pubs, restaurants and bars enjoying festive indulgences we wait all year for.
While the never-ending party spirit of the season is what many of us enjoy so much at this time, for others these noisy events exacerbate the problem of social isolation and exclusion they face all year round. If background noise in pubs, restaurants and other venues is a problem throughout the rest of the year, noisy parties will only make it more difficult.
Action on Hearing Loss' Speak Easy campaign, which we launched over the summer, found that 79% of people with and without hearing loss had left establishments early because it was too noisy. Further to this, an astonishing nine out of ten of those surveyed said background noise was the biggest problem they faced when eating out. With interior design increasingly favouring an industrial aesthetic with hard surfaces and a noticeable lack of soft furnishings, the echoey acoustics this creates is making excessive background noise more prevalent.
Alongside our report we produced a guide with practical adaptions venues can take on board to help address this issue - from simply turning off some speakers to create 'quiet areas', to investing in acoustic treatments to soak up some of excess noise. However, following a disappointing response from the industry, we've created a pack to help people speak out themselves by giving direct feedback.
The last thing we want to do is sap the joy out of Christmas - it'd take an almighty Scrooge to seriously condone hosting Christmas parties without any cheesy music playing whatsoever. We simply want venues to make small changes that make a big difference, and hope that encouraging direct feedback from the public will help make this happen.
How can this work in practice? Well, during your next Christmas night out, should you find yourself have to bellow at your friends, upload a photo of yourself from the venue on social media giving a thumbs down; if you've had a good experience, give them a thumbs up. Alternatively, the pack contains some cards that can be filled in and discretely handed to staff along with the bill. Use websites such as TripAdvisor to leave reviews, and mention whether or not the background noise and acoustics made it difficult to communicate with one another.
The more noise the public make about this to this to the industry, the more they will be forced to listen. While as an organisation we can give facts and stats that show the business case for making adaptions, real change will come from real people giving real feed back - and speaking with their feet.
No one should be excluded from nights out with friends and Christmas festivities. That we hear time and time again about people with hearing loss giving up on social events all together because of the background noise is a sad state of affairs. If we can encourage restaurants to take notice of the millions across the country who experience this problem perhaps we can go some way to improving their Christmasses in the years to come.