It’s not always easy for music fans with learning disabilities to get out to gigs. But Gig Buddies, a volunteer project run by the charity Stay Up Late, is changing all that. Director and co-founder, Paul Richards explains how.
Gig Buddies was one of those ideas you assume someone must have already thought of. We were wondering if there was a way to make use of the spare seats in people’s cars as they travelled to gigs, and whether people with learning disabilities who love the same music could occupy those seats.
That would give people with learning disabilities an opportunity to, not only see live music but also extend their social networks beyond typical care settings.
It was an idea that developed, and we spent around a year laying the groundwork for the project before it launched in Jan 2013. We conducted some research to find out what the barriers were to people getting out. We found the reasons were things like having no money, being low in confidence, not being able to access public transport at night, not knowing what’s going on, and not having anyone to go with.
But what we also found was there was a real desire for people with learning disabilities to be getting out there.
What makes a good Gig Buddies volunteer?
We also thought about why people didn’t volunteer, and we decided it was largely because they didn’t have the time or didn’t know what to do. So the idea behind Gig Buddies was simple: it was about turning something people enjoyed doing into a volunteering opportunity.
There are really only two requirements: you have to be a nice person, and you have to have an interest.
We have volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a diverse range of interests. While Gig Buddies started out being about live music, it’s now grown to include things like the theatre, nature walks, church and sport. The point is that participants are in control of choosing their ‘gig’, whatever that may be.
One of the key aspects of Gig Buddies is that it’s all about relationships. It’s about enabling socially isolated people to develop friendship circles, and we spend a lot of time meeting with everyone – participants and volunteers – to find out what their interests are.
We ask that every volunteer commits to at least one gig a month and also meets up for a coffee once a month with their buddy to plan the next trip. All our volunteers receive training and on-going support once they have been matched.
The other core principle of Gig Buddies is about enabling people with learning disabilities to make real choices about the way they lead their lives, and to pursue interests they enjoy in their local community. At Stay Up Late we often get asked why we don’t organise more events for people with learning disabilities. Our belief is that all events should be open to everyone, including people with learning disabilities. This is something that underpins our work.
What’s next for Gig Buddies?
We now have over 60 participants and 60 volunteers, and a full waiting list. We are committed to developing our project in Sussex.
However, we can’t run the project beyond Sussex, as its strength of relies on relationships. So we’re aiming to share it.
Our first pilot site is in Sydney, Australia – with ACL Disability Services – and it’s attracted a lot of excitement over there. Several other large cities also wanting to get involved. The second pilot site is in Midlothian, and being run by Thera Scotland.
The next step is to work with organisations who share the same ethos as us, and this year we’re planning to invite another 10 organisations to work with us and set up Gig Buddies in their locality.
There’s a lot more I could write about the project, but it’s probably best left to one of our participants, Bella to tell you about it. Bella has a mild learning disability, depression and anxiety. She has had a Gig Buddy for a year now, and has gone to lots of gigs.
Bella says: “Before I had a Gig Buddy, I felt like I was lost at the weekends. I had never been to a music gig before, but having a Gig Buddy has meant that I’ve discovered new music. It means that I can travel to Brighton, which I couldn’t do before. Once you start going out you are more able to do other things – it improves your confidence.”