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

Paired to a buddy to go to events in the evening

To read on The Guardian:

Note: Learning disability in UK is the same thing than intellectual disability elsewhere.

A chance for people with learning disabilities to lead more active social lives

Gig Buddies pairs people with learning disabilities up with a buddy who accompanies them to events in the evening

By Jan Goodey

Gig Buddies

The boon of Gig Buddies. ‘It means I can go out more. I have opportunities I’ve never had before, like going to Glastonbury,’ said David, 27. Photograph: Gig Buddies

Gig Buddies, an innovative Sussex project, is giving people with learning disabilities the chance to go to music gigs in the evenings. Rather than miss out on music – either completely because of lack of a support worker, or partially because that support finishes early – people with learning disabilities can now stay until the end of a show with their trained « gig buddy » in tow.

Paul Richards, 43, former bass player for Heavy Load which includes members with learning difficulties, is the founder. « We found it frustrating when some of our fans had to leave gigs early, » he explained. « The whole idea of this was to do something about that. »

Richards started an awareness campaign, Stay Up Late, in 2006 and the organisation became a registered charity in December 2011. Gig Buddies is one result. « Heavy Load had been 15 years of anarchy and mayhem. In the week we quit, I got a letter saying we’d won funding for the Gig Buddies project. » he said.

The charity received a £2,000 award from City Camp, and together with £5,000 from Southdown Housing Association, £11,300 from Brighton and Hove city council and £9,000 from the Sussex community, Gig Buddies is now firmly established.

The launch event at Brighton’s Komedia in March was a sell-out. Musicians with learning disabilities played thanks to training through Carousel, a group which inspires people to achieve their artistic ambitions.

Sarah Walpole, 35, an artist from Hove who went along, said: « Initially I’d gone along to see one of the bands, but then I looked more into it and now I’ve signed up for the training. If I was young with a disability, I’d want to be out. Different people need different things. Some are vulnerable; some independent. If you’re vulnerable and your parents can’t be there looking after you, this works. It’s empowering and a bit like dating without the love. »

David, 27, who has a learning disability, agreed: « For me, it means I can go out more, make some new friends and have opportunities I’ve never had before, like going to Glastonbury. I got involved through Stay Up Late – the person I live with did discos for them. I’m going to Glastonbury with my gig buddy, who I’m meeting next week. »

As well as being a keen metal fan, David takes rock photographs and took the pictures for the Gig Buddies launch night.

Gig Buddies will have a presence at this year’s Glastonbury in a pilot scheme with two pairs of buddies going along to work with the charity Attitude is Everything which looks to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music.

There are 30 volunteers and rising on the Gig Buddies roster. Project manager, Madeline Denny, 25, said: ?Only two of those volunteers have a friend with a learning disability, so you see it’s a kind of silent segregation. People feel isolated and don’t have the opportunity to meet others.

« This is a learning disabled-led project looking to change that. We’re setting up an advisory panel of people with learning disabilities, who can help to plan and guide it with their ideas. It’s about an inclusive society which is good for everyone. »

A typical volunteer is someone who goes to gigs regularly, is kind and happy to help others to do the same. Previous relevant work experience isn’t a requirement. The training is free, consisting of two half days with sessions on disability rights, the project’s history, and dealing with emergency situations.

Two gigs a year is the plan – the next is along the coast in Hastings. In early September, an outdoor festival is being mooted.

Richards added: « We’re working out ways how to make this self-funded by turning it into a social franchise or getting sponsorship. We don’t want it to be reliant on grant funding and are hoping it takes on a life of its own. »

Other cities that have already shown an interest include Bradford, London, Bristol and Belfast.