Gig Buddies Blog

Sharing Gig Buddies – How we share it and what we’ve learned

Sharing Gig Buddies

How we share it and what we’ve learned

We started our Gig Buddies project in Brighton and Hove over 8 ½ years ago, the first place we shared our approach was in Sydney, Australia and the Edinburgh. Now there are 15 Gig Buddies projects, 13 in the UK and 2 in Australia and constant interest from people around the world asking how they can also set up Gig Buddies where they are.

The concept behind Gig Buddies

I think what really appeals to people is the simplicity of what Gig Buddies is all about, matching up socially isolated people with learning disabilities with a volunteer who loves the same music/cultural activities so they can attend together as friends. Making everyday mainstream events accessible for all and turning any event in to a volunteering opportunity.

The project saw us recognised as a Nesta New Radical organisation in 2014.

A chance meeting with Carol Smail, the CEO of ACL Disability Services from Sydney at a conference in Birmingham gave us the idea that we could share the model, not something we’d ever though about.

The subsequent New Radicals feature in The Observer drove many people to get in touch and a new project was born ‘Gig Buddies in a Box’.

The core principles of Gig Buddies

Apparently if you go in to any McDonalds anywhere the food tastes exactly the same. We did not want to franchise Gig Buddies so it tastes the same everywhere. We wanted it to reflect the local needs of people, their communities and their cultural scenes. A Gig Buddies in a city will look different to one working in a more rural location.

There are, however, some things that cannot be different and these were decided on by attendees at one of our Annual General Meetings:

1. Led by people with learning disabilities

It’s important that people with learning disabilities are leading on making choices about how they spend their social lives and leisure time. It’s also important that any partners embrace setting up advisory groups so that people with learning disabilities can inform how the project develops locally.

2. Mainstream culture

It’s not just about gigs and music, it can be any sort of cultural activity – theatre, clubbing, museums, nature walks, sport – anything. The important thing is that it’s about making all events accessible to everyone.

3. Community participation

Beyond mainstream culture it’s also important that people are visible in their communities so all our activities, such as social meet-ups, are also in public places such as pubs. We want to make sure that people with learning disabilities are both confident to be part of their local communities and also welcomed and loved.

4. Friendships

Probably the most important thing about Gig Buddies, especially in the shadow of the Covid pandemic, is that it’s about having people in your lives who aren’t paid to be there. That’s the bare essence of what Gig Buddies is all about. Friendships and being able to widen your social networks.

The key outcomes that we aim to address

  • People with learning disabilities are less lonely and have more friends.
  • People with learning disabilities are empowered to make more choices about how they live their lives.
  • Communities become more inclusive.
  • People with learning disabilities will have new cultural experiences and be able to make wider choices about how they live their lives.
  • People with learning disabilities will develop new skills and confidence around attending events and activities in their communities.
  • Volunteers will become more aware of the issues facing people with learning disabilities and become their allies.

Additionally due to Covid we also seek to make these changes:

  • People with learning disabilities will feel more connected, even if restrictions prevent actual events and meeting up in real-life.
  • People with learning disabilities will develop new skills and strategies for feeling less lonely after lockdown.
  • People with learning disabilities will learn how to stay safe online
  • People with learning disabilities will discover new interests and activities to try after the lockdown.
  • People with learning disabilities will learn new skills to be digitally active

And, as many of us are experiencing, people will develop confidence and knowledge to re-access gigs and events and be safe in doing so.

These are the main changes that we aim to make but of course once you start working with people on a project like this there’s all sorts of unintended outcomes you can never predict like someone being invited to attend their volunteers’ wedding, being asked for an interview live on national BBC radio or going to Glastonbury Festival.

What we a share

We aim to share everything we have learned about running the project over the past 8 ½ years:

  • Our volunteer training programme which goes in to detail around safeguarding, boundaries, assessing risks as well as an understanding of having a learning disability and being a good buddy to someone.
  • How we match people – a complicated process which takes in to account peoples’ cultural preferences, their transport needs, their age, sexuality, gender and specific support needs.
  • Our policies and procedures
  • Paperwork, forms, processes and practical tips

Everything is on a shared Extranet website and constantly updated and reviewed.

More than that though we are on hand to provide advice and support if issues or questions arise and we also have our growing community of Gig Buddies projects and we meet every month on Zoom to discuss issues, share ideas and provide mutual support.

Where we have Gig Buddies projects

Here’s a list of locations where we currently have other Gig Buddies projects.

Gig Buddies in other places

It’s not just for people with learning disabilities and autistic people

The reason that we started the project for this group of people is because that’s who we’re set up to support through our charity.

We often get asked why there isn’t a Gig Buddies for people with acquired brain injuries or physical disabilities and there’s no reason whatsoever. In fact we worked with another charity in Brighton, Synergy Creative, so support them to set up Gig Buddies for Good Mental Health.

Whilst our training is geared around people with learning disabilities there is absolutely no reason why it can’t work as a model for other marginalised groups of people and we would work with a partner organisation to tweak things as appropriate and learn from their expertise.

Want to find out more?

If you’d like to find out more about becoming a partner and setting up Gig Buddies where you are do drop us a line and arrange to have a chat with us.

Email us at and one of our team will be in touch to arrange to have an initial chat and find out more about your organisation and where you work.

Here’s a Powerpoint which has some more information and notes in the comments fields to explain more.

Gig Buddies is now more important than ever

Through lockdown we really reflected on what Gig Buddies was all about what with there being no gigs to go to and nothing to stay up late for! However, it’s really more important than ever with more and more people becoming very socially isolated.

It’s about connections, and friendships, something we all hold dear and something we can all be part of creating for other people.

Do get in touch – we’d love to hear more from you.