One person’s crap is another person’s manure – our review of the year

Annual Review – 2020

In many ways we could reflect on the past year as being a bit crap but we’re taking the metaphor of poo and using it to inspire us to develop the way we work next year.

Here’s a look back at the last year at Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies and a look forward to next year.

Our values

These are the values that we work to as a charity:

  • We’re Inclusive
  • We try and make things Fun
  • We’re Disruptive and challenge the ways things are done
  • We promote a sense of in Community in everything we do
  • We work with Integrity
  • We stay Focussed – we’re a small charity and we can’t do everything!

We sum this all up with the phrase ‘Keeping it Punk’ – by that we mean we’re reactive and we get stuck in as quickly as possible and we’ve needed to be proper ‘punks’ this year!

2020 B.C. (Before Covid)

Up until March we were having a successful year. The demand for our work with Gig Buddies continues to grow and the team had done a great piece of work engaging with everyone on our waiting list and organising loads of socials in different locations around Sussex. We’d also been celebrating 5 years of Gig Buddies Sydney.

The Quality Team had done some great visits for Southdown Housing and had started to produce their reports in a new video format.

We’d redesigned our websites and just delivered a training session on learning disability awareness to Nesta, a new departure for us and one which we loved doing, and so did Nesta.

The campaign ambassadors held their first meet-up in Brighton and it was great to see the group connecting and getting to know each other better. (They’d come from all over the country). Not only that but we’d been busy presenting sessions at conferences such as NCASC in Bournemouth, British Association of Social Workers, Leigh Day, Leicester City Council and even in Tel Aviv.

The year was off to a flyer.

Then Covid happened a ruined our ‘festival of fun’

In 1998 there was an incident at Glastonbury when a machine that was meant to be sucking water out of the dance tent was accidentally switched to blow and it sprayed poo everywhere, shutting the tent down.

We’ve been using this as a metaphor for how we feel about 2020. If you were at that Glastonbury would you have let it ruin your festival or would you have gone and found something else to do?

Gig Buddies has never just been about ‘gigs’ for us, it’s about enabling people with learning disabilities to lead the lives they want, whatever their ‘gig’ is. Whatever their interests in life are.

We’ve been wondering though if that message is getting across loudly enough and new people (both people with learning disabilities and new volunteers) could be put off if they think it’s all about going to noisy concerts and socials in pubs.

At Glastonbury Festival there are thousands of things to do. You can watch the massive commercial bands or sit in a poetry tent, learn permaculture, have a massage, go for a walk or even visit an observatory. We see Gig Buddies as like this a ‘festival of fun’ where there are thousands of ways to enjoy your life and meet up with new people to share that fun with. This is going to be a big focus for us in 2021.

March onwards

We don’t need to tell you how much everything changed in March. We don’t have many photos to show of what we’ve done that don’t look like another Zoom screenshot.

The team have been incredible though in reacting, in our ‘punk-like’ way, to the challenge and swiftly reinventing our work so it still has relevance to the people we’re trying to support.

Keeping it punk

With great speed we managed to not only keep things going but it seemed like we were all busier than ever in delivering our work, all from our back rooms and bedrooms. Here’s an idea of the things we achieved:

  • Coronavirusfest – our virtual festival to keep the live gigs going. A shout out by Lauren Laverne on BBC6 Music helped us on our way to over 3000 followers on Facebook in the space of a few weeks.
  • Another project that we developed at speed was the ‘Get Connected Phones Project’ – we realized that 25% of the people we work with didn’t have internet or smartphones and so we aimed to get more people connected by providing smartphones and remote accessible training. (Massive thanks to Digital Brighton and Hove and their volunteer Judy for helping with this).
  • Socials – these have been running on Zoom at least once a week in the form of karaoke parties, art classes, pop quizzes, dance sessions and all sorts.

When we were able we also held small ‘rule of six’ socials in parks or went for short walks.

  • Coffee mornings – as well as socials the coffee mornings have been a time for everyone to just connect and have an informal catch-up.
  • Phone check-ins – at the beginning of the lockdown the team were ringing up everyone for a quick chat to see how they were and try to keep spirits up.
  • Volunteer training – we overhauled our volunteer training and turned part of it in to an online module. We’ve still managed to train up a further 15 volunteers through the lockdown.
  • The Lockdown Podcast has been a lovely idea to see emerge from the team and it’s one of those things that I think we’ll keep going as it’s a fun and accessible way to reach everyone.
  • Stay Up Late Guide to Coronavirus – working with the awesome cartoonist Ned Razzell we produced our own guide to support people feeling confused and lonely due to the lockdown.
  • Another success from the lockdown has been the Ambassadors Group who have been meeting on Zoom every two weeks since March. They’ve really started to grow as a group too and it’s got us asking ourselves why we’d not thought of doing this sooner?
  • A great source of mutual support has been through our regular Zooms with all the Gig Buddies Partners. These have been a fantastic way to work through issues arising as well as share our creativity with each other and has really strengthened the community of Gig Buddies partners.
  • We’ve also been working on some internal things such as the system we have for team communication using Slack meaning we don’t send each other hundreds of emails but keep up human connection and those informal and natural conversations you would have in an office. It’s also made us think more about succession planning and making sure we’re got a good system in place in case any key members of staff were unable to do their work, or moved on. We’ve now got a good plan in place.
  • And then there’s the new staff that have joined the team this year. In the last 12 months we’ve had 7 new people join the team and 4 of those have been whilst the office has been totally shut.

Disability Arts Online – DaDaFest

We were delighted to be commissioned to make a short film by Disability Arts Online for their DaDaFest about the work we’d been doing to support people with learning disabilities to be digitally connected.

Victoria’s award

We were extremely proud to hear that Victoria, our Gig Buddies Project Assistant, won a ‘Covid Leaders’ award in the The Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List. Victoria was recognised for all she’d done in helping keep people in good humour throughout the lockdown. Well done Victoria!

Our partnerships

As a small charity we believe that the only way to have a wider impact is through partnerships and we were really thrilled to be invited to be part of the ‘Social Innovation Network’, an initiative by Think Local Act Personal and the Social Care Institute for Excellence. We’re also working with Leigh Day on a piece of work to align our ‘Manifesto for an Ordinary Life’ with the Human Rights Act and worked with Heart n Soul on their ‘Heart N Soul’ at the hub initiative.

Some of you may have seen the film we made with Open Future Learning too. ‘A day in the life’ tells the story of every day discrimination faced by people with learning disabilities.

Wider impact

Last year we shared a list of the various publications and books that we’d been referenced in. This makes us really proud because it shows the impact and influence that our work is having across the wider world.

This year we can add another book to that list which is ‘Love, learning disabilities and pockets of brilliance’ by Sara Ryan.

We love this quote from it:

‘The organisation…has dripped cool from the start and is now being franchised across England. It’s a simple idea: people volunteer to be ‘gig buddies’ and are matched with people based on similar interests – gigs, meals out, theatre and so on. A win-win situation with the potential to become embedded across the country. Let’s hope it will make a dent in the tendency for people to be put to bed early.’

Our finances

We published our full accounts on our website but we’re happy to report that it’s been another positive year for us and although our surplus has reduced this is because we’ve been investing in the team’s capacity to fundraise and structural things such as our websites and technology.

We’re well aware of the challenges ahead though and are re-writing our short-term strategy for fundraising in light of the current crisis.

Thank yous

It’s always dangerous to say thank yous, especially in a year like this where so much has happened, because it is inevitable that I’m going to forget to say thank you to someone significant.

We’ve had some fantastic community fundraising such as Cupani Garden raising over £3000 in plant sales despite their garden being closed this year.

Our funders have also been wonderful recognising that we need a lot of flexibility to be able to adapt our work in a relevant way.

We’d also like to say a big thank you to our Gig Buddies Partners, our volunteers and out trustees. But above everything we’d like to single out our wonderful staff team who have done everything possible to keep making a positive change to the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Time to stop and think

When the first lockdown happened we just set about doing all we could to reinvent the way we delivered our work. We didn’t really stop to think, we just did that typical ‘Stay Up Late’ way of working which we like to call ‘thinking through doing’.

Then in the autumn we had a development day where we reflected on the seemingly relentless nature of the way we’d been working and decided that actually now was the time to stop and think and reflect on what we could learn from the first lockdown:

  • What would we do differently?

  • What should we do if there’s a second (or third) lockdown?

We also looked further at what we can do at our Annual General Meeting this year which was a conversation led by people with learning disabilities on:

  • What support do people with learning disabilities need in the lockdowns?

  • What’s been working well?

We’ll be reporting what comes out of that in the new year.

2021 – a ‘festival of fun’

We’re going to be keeping on with our theme of Gig Buddies being a ‘festival of fun’ – not just about gigs!

So we’re not sitting still and are working on a few things that will help us make this happen:

  1. We’re moving our office base to Stanford Avenue Methodist Church in Brighton with more capacity for us to work with other like-minded organisations in the city.
  2. Linked to the office move is our Community Hub project where we’re investigating how to reach more people with our work, and particularly people from different ethnic communities. We’re hoping to develop some new partnerships and approaches through this.
  3. We’ll be developing our advisory groups in new places across Sussex.
  4. We’ll have 2 new Gig Buddies projects starting up in North Wales and North Yorkshire. Something we weren’t expecting to announce just yet!
  5. We’ll be implementing our new Impact Measurement system to make it easier for the team to demonstrate the changes we’ve made for people and to make it easier for us to share this with the world.
  6. The ‘festival of fun’ idea will form the basis of our strategy to reach out to new volunteers and appeal to a broad diversity of people and their interests.
  7. We’ll also be continuing to work on diversifying our board of trustees.
  8. We’ll also be planning a trip to our own ‘festival of fun’ at next years Glastonbury and supporting more people with learning disabilities to enjoy the wonder of the festival.
  9. We’re looking forward to working more with Brighton based charity Extratime in supporting them to set up participation groups for both young people with learning disabilities and family carers connected with their projects.

10 years of Stay Up Late

Next autumn we’ll be celebrating 10 years of the charity so we’ll be working out how best to do that. It’s hard to plan ahead too much at the moment but you can be sure that as soon as it’s allowed, and safe to do so, that we’ll be having some sort of celebration together.

What is clear is that we all now know more what social isolation feels like but for many people that’s what their like has looked like for years, and will continue to do so if we don’t help to try and change things. That’s why Stay Up Late exists in the first place and we’re hoping we can get more people involved in the right for everyone to party.

That’s the plan

It’s been quite a year for everyone and whilst we’ve got a plan for next year our plan for this year didn’t work out as we’d thought.

The important thing for us is that we support everyone to stay safe through these challenging times and we’ll do what we can to support people in the best way we can.

We’ll be aiming to deliver on all the things in our plan for 2021 but as we always like to say in the office “what can possible go wrong?”

That’s why we have to ‘Keep It Punk!’

Paul Richards, Director

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