Gig Buddies Blog

Social franchising – what we’ve learned from Gig Buddies in a Box

And our top tips from what we’ve learned so far

This is an article first shared on our main Stay Up Late website looking at sharing our Gig Buddies project.

We started Gig Buddies over 5 years ago in our city of Brighton and Hove with an aim to enable a fairly small number of socially isolated people with learning disabilities and/or autism to be able to access mainstream cultural events in their communities, especially at night. Social franchising was not something we’d even considered.

We had no idea of what we’d actually started and we now we have 100 pairs of buddies regularly going out to gigs and other events across Sussex. It was also a chance meeting with Carol the CEO at ACL Disability Services in Sydney, Australia that got us thinking a bit bigger!

I met Carol at the BILD Annual General Meeting in Birmingham and we were chatting about our work and I flippantly said “you should get Gig Buddies going in Sydney”, her response was “I think we should!”

That got us on the path to creating a social franchise the additional recognition of being a Nesta New Radical in 2014 meant many more people got in touch wanting to replicate our work. Consequently we now have partner projects in Long Eaton, Norwich, Lothian (Scotland), Cardiff, Croydon, Portsmouth, Calderdale and Bedford.

(At the time of writing this I’m sat in the offices of ACL in Sydney and literally pinching myself at what we’ve all achieved so far!).

What we’ve learned from our social franchise

When we started on setting up the Gig Buddies project I’d never heard of the term ‘social franchise’ and so I’ve had to learn an awful lot about the process. Most of those lessons have been great, and some have been painful.

We thought it would be helpful to look further at sharing Gig Buddies so we asked

Research in Practice for Adults to evaluate us sharing Gig Buddies.

This article looks at some of the things they found, and what we’re going to do as a result.

You can download RiPFA’s report on Gig Buddies in a Box here too.


One of the things that we were most delighted to hear is that there is a clear sense of shared purpose by all the partners with the Gig Buddies core values embedded thoroughly throughout.

Flexibility of the model

Whilst our core ethos has been upheld across the partner projects st’s been wonderful to hear that partners have found our approach and our model flexible enough to adapt to local need. 


Partners find these come from a range of sources but said an online presence, and social media, have both played a big part.

Our support

We were delighted that everyone found us to be really helpful and responsive as we do try and we’re always working to improve this too.

The Box (The resources that we share)

We thought it would be helpful to share absolutely everything but we’ve learned that partners have found that overwhelming. We’re therefore going to re-write the manual and simplify some of the content.

We’re also going to create a better way of sharing our resources online.


As well as developing our initial training for new partners we’ve also started attending the first volunteer training session to support partners and for us to also check that everything that needs to is being covered. This will be a standard thing we offer to all new partners and they’ve found it to be really helpful.

Projects supporting each other

We try to be as responsive as possible and as helpful as possible but as a small charity we’re all to aware of our limitations, especially at busy times of the year. So we’re going to find more ways for partners to also support each other and hold an annual meet-up.

Impact on the Gig Buddies themselves

It is wonderful to read about the impact that the project has been having on individuals and just incredible to read about the project leading directly to paid employment for one individual. There are countless similar stories when individuals’ have benefitted from being part of Gig Buddies. You can read more about this here. (Gig Buddies evaluation report).

It’s also wonderful to hear that volunteers also see personal benefits as well as seeing the benefits for the wider community.


We knew there would be some challenges in setting up the Gig Buddies project. As I always say “if it was easy someone would already be doing it”

The whole project was born out of the challenges that people experience and so we’re not surprised to hear what challenges partners have been experiencing. Challenges such as:

  • Entrenched negative cultures in learning disability services
  • Not upsetting support workers who work in inflexible cultures
  • The funding environment
  • Creating long-lasting friendships for people with learning disabilities.

These are all issues that reflect the challenges we seek to address in our wider campaigning work.

What we’ve learned

There are a number of issues that have arisen that have enabled us to think about how we can better to support the setting up of new partners.

  1. Partners feeling the pressure around the initial set-up. We need to develop how we support partners around this, providing guidance about how to do a soft-launch and where to concentrate initial efforts.
  2. Not having enough hours in the day (or days in the week). We are in a much better position now to provide a clear framework for how many pairs of buddies one co-ordinator can support.
  3. We’re providing too much information! We’ve been more ‘prog rock’ than ‘punk’ in this regard and provided as much as we could think of.
  4. The premise of Gig Buddies is simple but there’s a lot behind it. That’s a message we need to make loud and clear because a huge amount of effort goes in to making sure the project enables people to be safe in their communities.
  5. We need to do some more work around learning why some volunteers stay for so long, and others don’t.
  6. We want to do more to connect with partners and so we’ll be holding online surgeries and meet-ups.
  7. We’re also creating more ways for partners to support each other.
  8. We need to support all partners by attending their first volunteer training sessions.
  9. We need to develop a better system around impact measurement. Both in terms of collecting the data and stories and telling the world about these.

Sharing our experiences of social franchising

We always aim to work in an open and supportive way with people but such has been the interest in Gig Buddies that we’re sometimes feeling the strain from people phoning us and wanting to meet with us to run their ideas by us and seek advice.

It’s always lovely to do this but it does take it’s toll sometimes.

We’ve not quite worked out the best way to work round this but I think we’re going to have to work on a plan!

We’ve also been approached by people wanting general advice on social franchising and we’re not the best people to ask about this. So we’d recommend talking to the School for Social Entrepreneurs. They’ve got loads of experience and advice around this process.

So boiling down all we’ve learned so far we’re turning the dials up Spinal Tap style and here’s our Top 11 tips.

Our top tips for social franchising

  1. Be really clear about what is you’re franchising and creating a strong identity.

Can you explain what you’re doing in a tweet?

And make sure you create an area on your website (or a separate page like Gig Buddies in a Box to create an easy place to point people to).

  1. Work out with your beneficiaries (the people who benefit from your existing work) what it is that makes your project special and worth sharing
  2. Work out what the core principles of the project are, those things that make up your philosophy and ethos around the project
  3. Stick to those core principles – they cannot and must not change
  4. Be flexible with almost everything else and chat with people, find out what it is they need
  5. Don’t share it with everyone. Through chatting and developing relationships though you will work out who you think you can work with, and who you can’t.
  6. Make sure you get your idea Trade Marked in case unscrupulous people try to copy your work (it’s happened to us!)
  7. Spend time to work out what the real cost of your social franchising should be to make sure you’re covering your time in supporting everyone
  8. Get legal advice on drawing up a franchise agreement
  9. Build your community and get everyone chatting with each other. In our case we’re trying to create a social movement so everyone is invested in our wider purpose too.
  10. Get some training for yourselves and do lots of research on social franchising. Here’s a couple of good places to start:

Social Enterprise UK

The School for Social Entrepreneurs

Spring Impact

We hope this is useful advice. The last thing to say is that social franchising has been a game changer for our charity, it’s enabled us to have a much bigger impact than we could of dreamed of. It has been a lot of hard work but worth every minute.

It will be an adventure for you but if you believe in what you’re sharing, and are passionate about you mission then it’s a fantastic way to share your work. We’d recommend social franchising as a great way to go.