People experiencing economic difficulties will often go to considerable lengths to hide this. At the same time, poverty can be a huge barrier to participation. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but its issues I’m aware of from personal experience and seeing problems friends have had. I’ve included suggestions about how best to minimise these problems to make Pagan activities more inclusive.
First up, be aware that your own measure of ‘small charge’ won’t be other people’s measure. People with financial challenges are probably budgeting, and that budgeting can be down into the pennies. There may well be no wriggle room. Advanced warning of costs enables budgeting and participation. Predictable costs are easier to deal with.
Entry cost. This is the most obvious financial barrier to participation. Offer concessions if you can and don’t humiliate people who ask for them. Working tickets can enable participation. Make sure your ticket price is the whole cost a person will have to pay – surprise expenses and sudden additions t the program are a nightmare, either causing the embarrassment of being compromised through lack of funds, or putting people in a position where paying now means they might not be able to eat later this week.
Transport costs. Poverty often means not being able to run a car. Public transport isn’t cheap and doesn’t go everywhere. Late night taxis are prohibitive. Look for venues people can get to, actively organise lift shares (it’s greener anyway). Stop before the last bus. Publish your end time, and stick to it so that people can make viable arrangements.
Childcare. If your event excludes children, then you may make it impossible for less affluent parents and single parents to attend. End times are really important if you’ve had to pay for a babysitter, as with transport issues. Name an end time and stick to it.
Kit. Required reading lists, and pressure to own certain items or wear robes etc. It all costs money up front, but there are hidden costs too. If you’re on public transport either you travel in robes – not always safe – or you carry them and can’t carry anything else. For people in dire circumstances, laundry can become a problem, so pressure to have pristine white robes can become exclusive.
Compulsive attendance. It may be that a person can afford to attend sometimes, but won’t always have the money for the train, or the door. In extreme circumstances, being able to afford hot water to wash the self and clothing can be a problem. If there’s a requirement to make every session, even if the session itself is low cost, people in extreme poverty may be pushed out.
Buying food and drinks. Look for venues where people can self cater. The cost difference between bringing your own lunch, and having to buy lunch, is huge and can easily be a deal breaker for anyone in a tight financial situation. Make it clear if self catering is an option. If you are taking people to a venue – for example a pub – where they will be expected to buy drinks, check out the prices first. Some pubs are prohibitively expensive. Mentioning the likely drink costs will help people judge if they can afford to attend.
If some events have a significant price ticket on them, try and make sure there are others that don’t, so that people who can’t afford the weekend retreats etc can at least show up to something. Walking moots and house moots can be very affordable.
There are other things we can do to help each other. Share things, give things away, offer lifts… if we act more like a community, we don’t have to force out those who are unable to bear the costs. Paganism is a spiritual path, not a hobby, and no one should be priced out of participation.