This case study forms part of the What Good Looks Like report on people with a learning disability and autistic people. This co-produced report was commissioned from the Building the Right Support (BTRS) Advisory Group, as part of the wider action plan developed by the Building the Right Support Delivery Board. It has been supported by Partners in Care and Health.
Gig Buddies is for adults with a learning disability and volunteers who want to go to cultural events. It helps people with a learning disability to access (and be visible accessing) mainstream culture events. This can range from a music festival to the theatre to a local band playing a gig at a pub.
It is described as an 'anti-service' because it is a framework for people to do what they want with people who wish to also do those things.
The project is funded by the Big Lottery, Franchise Income, Brighton & Hove Council, West Sussex Council. It operates in Sussex plus 15 other places that have franchises across the UK. Gig Buddies has gone international and now has a franchise in Sydney, Australia.
Gig Buddies started over 10 years ago following a discussion about how the spare seats in cars with people going to gigs could be used by people with a learning disability who might struggle to travel to gigs. This idea was further developed and taken forward as an entry at a conference in Brighton, City Camp, which wanted ideas on how to make lives in cities better. Gig Buddies won the prize for the best idea and won £2000.
The main barriers that had to be overcome were in finding enough money to employ someone to develop the project. They had to be creative at the beginning, using prize money, company donations and some initial money from Brighton & Hove City Council.
Gig Buddies did some research with the University of Brighton, to find out what the obstacles to getting out were for people with a learning disability and making sure these were addressed in the way it was set up. This included ensuring that family carers were comfortable with how volunteering was approached and that risks were being managed.
Securing an organisation to provide DBS checks is challenging because it limits the requirement to those providing a health and social care service, which Gig Buddies is not.
One big help was that volunteers were not hard to find!
It works because of the simplicity of the idea: it releases community capacity and builds health and wellbeing, but unlike more formal services, it is very flexible on how individuals do this.
Gig Buddies matches volunteers and people with a learning disability and can reduce social isolation for both parties. It is about friendships and challenging the idea that people with a learning disability should only do things that are only put on for people with a learning disability and only have friends that have a learning disability.
It is led by people with a learning disability, and they can sack their volunteer if it turns out that their interests are not the same. Someone was once sacked for not dancing enough!
Fundamentally, it helps individuals with a learning disability find out what tribe they want to be a part of and join it.
Social work teams have been good at referrals. COVID means that family carers/ support workers are nervous about going out.
People are having fun and building a friendship at the same time.
What makes it good?
Gig Buddies can be described as a 'Trojan Horse' project. People are having serious fun and making connections/friendships which help to protect them from social isolation, and this builds confidence for people when they start going to new places. Friendships help to protect health and wellbeing and Gig Buddies ensures that individuals are not limited to ‘friendships’ with their support workers but can meet new people and do new things.
It demonstrates practical inclusion, ensuring that people with a learning disability are visible in mainstream provision, including visits to Glastonbury.
Generally, Gig Buddies also raises the profile of people with learning disabilities and the obstacles they can experience in just getting access to mainstream cultural provision. There is a Stay Up Late stall at Glastonbury and when people approach and find out more, people attending the festival are appalled at how limited the choices are for people with a learning disability.
After the pandemic, there is a real focus on rebuilding confidence and supporting people to get back out there, whilst recognizing the concerns about COVID.
In the future, we are looking at the development of Sports Buddies with a focus on physical activity and bringing together people who want to do a weekly ‘exercise’ session together. Like Gig Buddies this is a wide definition of physical activity so could be anything from running to gardening.
Gig Buddies sees opportunities in the wider universal personalised care work across England with the potential for improving access through social prescribing in West Sussex.
More franchises are happening, and Gig Buddies is growing, even in Australia. The COVID pandemic has strengthened working with the franchises, picking up common issues, opportunities and concerns and this way of working will continue.
This way of working will continue and grow. After COVID, real events are now on the horizon again…. so back to Glastonbury!