Want to be a gig buddy?

To read on The Guardian website:15

Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.

Want to get out more? Volunteer as a gig buddy with disabled music fans

by Rhik Samadder 

Fans with learning disabilities may not get to see their favourite bands because of their carers’ shift hours – here’s how to fix that. (…)

gig buddy

The Gig Buddies group outside the Horrors’ gig at the Pavilion, Worthing. Photograph: Andrew Hasson

Audience walkouts are hard for any band, particularly when the people leaving don’t want to go. “We were frustrated that people with learning disabilities had to leave our gigs at 9pm, because their carers were working inflexible shift hours,” explains Paul Richards, a former singer with the punk band Heavy Load, three of whom had learning disabilities themselves. It’s estimated that 2% of the population have a learning disability. “We realised this was a massive issue,” continues Paul. And if these people aren’t allowed to lead full social lives, it’s likely other choices are being denied them too.”

Having identified a problem, they saw it as their responsibility to provide an answer. In January 2013 Paul launched the befriending scheme Gig Buddies, which partners people who have a learning disability or difficulty with volunteers who share their interests, to accompany each other to events. The scheme runs all over Sussex, and tonight we’re in Worthing to join some buddies on a Friday night out.

“Free beer, on the house. Waheeey!” Andrew Walker joins me at a table. He’s well over six foot, with a loud, infectious laugh – and he’s not joking about the beer. A new Czech beer is being promoted in this lively pierside bar, with free pints being given away. Andrew is 30 and has autusm. Alex McLaren, his quieter buddy, is with us. He was matched with Andrew, he explains, because they are both adventurous music devotees, who enjoy expanding their tastes. Next month they have tickets to see the acclaimed soul collective Jungle, but have also been to a Blondie tribute band. Their very first gig together was a heavy metal concert. “We both had stiff necks the next day from headbanging,” Alex says.

The Horrors onstage at the Pavilion, Worthing.
The Horrors’ smoke and lasers fill the theatre, and Andrew is instantly transported. Photograph: Andrew Hasson

At 9pm, we stroll to Worthing Pavilion, and skip the queue. The VIP treatment comes courtesy of One Inch Badge, concert promoters who put a pair of gig buddies on the guest list for each of their shows. Fifteen minutes later, the Horrors – a goth-psychedelic outfit dressed as if for Halloween – step out on stage, and play very loudly. Smoke and lasers fill the theatre, and Andrew is instantly transported. He dances, paying close attention to the rhythmic interplay between the musicians. “Listen to that,” he shouts to me during a tempo change, “That’s really good.”

He should know. Andrew is a singer himself, in a band called the Revs. Recent gig highlights include singing Nirvana anthems to a crowd of 5,000 at a Belgian music festival. Tomorrow he’s at a football match, after that the cinema. He also works as a quality checker in a specialist housing organisation, improving the quality of life for vulnerable people. He’s a great example of what a person can achieve once obstacles are removed.

Gig Buddies attracts a wider range of applicants than many good causes, perhaps due to the flexible nature of the commitment required – an event once a month – and the obvious fact it’s centred around having fun. “We have students, disaffected support workers, people with families who want to get their gig lives back. Seventy per cent of them have never volunteered before,” Paul explains, with pride.

With us in the crowd are Karen Amsden, a punk rock fan, and her buddy, Mandi Kite. This is their first evening out together. In front of the Horrors’ sonic squall, chatting is a challenge, so Mandi and I amuse ourselves wordlessly, deciding who looks the most ridiculous on the flyer for the theatre’s upcoming pantomime, Aladdin.

The problems experienced by people with learning disabilities vary. They can include difficulty learning new things, communicating or travelling independently. Mandi has Down’s syndrome, but despite her support needs, Karen says she never felt she was taking too much on. The charity trained her on interacting with people with learning disabilities, and provides ongoing assistance. “We’re getting to know each other. More than gigs, Mandi wants someone to meet people with, and become less shy. I think we were matched because we both adore cappuccino and cake.”

Despite its roots in the live music scene, the scheme emphasises freedom of choice. The “gig” can be whatever participants enjoy. “Some prefer walking, or sports or photography,” says Paul. “The idea is to get to know someone through shared interests rather than a medical diagnosis. It’s about changing the power balance, giving people with learning disabilities a community presence. It’s letting people live the lives they want.”

For more information about the Gig Buddies scheme, visit stayuplate.org/gig-buddies-project

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