Gig Buddies Blog

How Gig Buddies got started

I often get asked how Gig Buddies came about and it came from a conversation we were having with our newly formed board of trustees back in the very early days of the charity. We were talking about how there must be a lot of people driving to see gigs with empty seats in their cars and wondering if we could somehow use that as a way of supporting people to find free and safe transport.

Soon the idea got simpler as we talked about just finding volunteers who shared the same interests and the idea of Gig Buddies was born. That was back in 2011.

City Camp Brighton

City Camp Brighton was a free 2 day ‘non’ conference for anyone in the city. The theme was ‘What future do we want for people living in our city?’ It was attended by academics, people from local government, creatives, techies, community activists, people from charities and anyone who was interested. All were welcome.

At breakfast on the Saturday we were asked to stand up and tell everyone our idea, if we had one, and were given 60 seconds to make our pitch. On 60 seconds Anthony, the facilitator, blew his whistle so there was no way of going over the allotted time.

There were 30 of us who made our initial pitches.

Then we worked in groups to refine our idea and get support from other people at the conference. However, it was also important that we all supported other ideas too and so we had a wonderful day of sharing ideas, meeting new people and working as a community.

By the end of Saturday there were 14 ideas remaining as some people realised there’s were similar and they joined up, others had received the help they needed and didn’t need to go any further.

On the Sunday the mission was to work on our idea further in small groups and then present it on the Sunday evening to the whole conference. I worked all day with a couple of other people and gave the presentation that evening and won!

The prize? £2000, which wasn’t enough to get things going immediately but it also meant there was a community of people around at the beginning who gave great energy, enthusiasm and support. I then went about fundraising to get enough money to hire our first worker at the charity. That happened 2 years later.

Starting with our values as we meant to carry on

As soon as we started the Gig Buddies project properly I was keen that the first thing we do was set up an advisory group. This became The Storm and Thunder Team and the principle of having advisory groups and active participation across all our work has remained constant across our work, and something we’re always challenging ourselves to do better.

When we started Gig Buddies we knew there was a need for it in Brighton and Hove and I hadn’t done any research to see if there were similar projects elsewhere. I’d certainly not thought about the potential for licensing the project and replicating it in other places.

The project had also caught the interest of Nesta and in 2014 we were awarded the recognition of being a Nesta New Radical organisation. The subsequent article in The Observer produced a lot of interest from other organisations.

At the same time I’d been speaking at a BILD conference in Birmingham about a different project I’d been working on and met Carol who was visiting from Sydney. We had a coffee and she was really excited to hear about the Gig Buddies project. She went back home and set to work on getting Gig Buddies launched over there and that’s how we started sharing it, with Edinburgh following shortly after.

Always different, always the same

John Peel famously said ‘Always different, always the same’ about the band The Fall. When we thought about sharing Gig Buddies we also wanted it to reflect that it should look different in every place (due to demographics, geography, the cultural scene etc) but it should also be clearly Gig Buddies.

We asked buddies with learning disabilities, volunteers, family carers and support workers ‘What makes Gig Buddies special’ at our Annual General Meeting and came up with the four main principles:

  1. Led by people with learning disabilities – people being able to decide what events they go to as well as each project having a commitment to having an advisory group
  2. Community – people with learning disabilities being active in their chosen communities
  3. Mainstream culture – our belief is that all events should be open to everyone. It doesn’t have to be just gigs though, it can be sports matches, theatres, museums, nature walks, clubbing, festivals, poetry nights – anything that people want to do.
  4. Friendship – it’s about people with learning disabilities having people in their lives who aren’t paid to be there.

So in many ways it’s not about gigs at all and the pandemic brought this to a head. It’s actually about friendship and connection but using ‘gigs’ or a shared interest to find a quick way to hopefully enable that connection to develop in to a friendship.

We now have 17 Gig Buddies projects supporting many hundreds of socially isolated people with learning disabilities to have great social lives and hope to be announcing more soon.

You can read more about how we go about sharing Gig Buddies here.


Watch my talk at TEDx Brighton to find out more about the main concepts of Gig Buddies

The lessons learned

I also often get asked about what lessons we’ve learned through sharing the project and what advice we have.

Here’s a few:

  1. If you’ve got an idea that is burning a hole in your brain listen to that and work on it. Patience might not come easy but it will probably take time before the idea becomes real. (And will also require a lot of work).
  2. Be really clear about what your idea is and what you’re trying to achieve. A vague idea is hard to explain and almost impossible to get other people on board.
  3. Build good networks and share with that network (online and offline). This will involve working hard at building your social media profile.
  4. Speak at lots of conferences. You’ll need to talk to all sorts of different audiences in different ways.
  5. Have a catchy name.
  6. Do some research. Whilst I forgot the important step of researching what other projects like Gig Buddies there might have been (which there weren’t) we did commission research through the University of Brighton to establish that obstacles facing people with learning disabilities to going out.
  7. We had to put a good number of smaller funding applications in to be able to get the project going, and then needed to continue this as we built.
  8. Get a good designer. For your website, logos, leaflets and marketing.
  9. Build confidence. We were really keen to ensure that family carers had confidence in Gig Buddies from early on. We did this by working with people we knew, sharing our safeguarding systems and talking with them around any concerns.
  10. Participation is key. From day one we have always made sure that people with learning disabilities were as involved as possible in designing and shaping the project.
  11. Stay focussed. It may be that your idea will grow and take on a life of its own but I found staying focussed on the core idea has been greatly helpful to us in growing the project.

It never occurred to me that we would share Gig Buddies around the UK and in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland but we have.

It’s been amazing to look back at over the last 10 years and see how far we’ve come and I hope you found some of this helpful if you’re looking to start sharing your own work in other places.