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Celebrating eight years of Gig Buddies in Sydney

  •  PaulR
  •  22/06/2023
  •  News
Carol and Paul talking on stage with woman cheering and throwing her arms in the air in the foreground.

Celebrating eight years of Gig Buddies in Sydney

I was thrilled to be invited to celebrate eight years of Gig Buddies Sydney last month. At the same time, over in Sussex, we’ve been preparing to celebrate our own project milestone – 10 years of Gig Buddies!

The lessons of licensing

In 2014 I was talking at a BILD conference in Birmingham and met Carol, the CEO of ACL Disability Services, who was visiting from Sydney. We hit it off immediately; she wanted to hear about Gig Buddies. She explained that they had the double whammy of not only people with learning disabilities finding it hard to get out but also small music venues were also closing.

She went off and, soon after, announced they’d got the funding to launch the project over there. We’d not thought about sharing the project before this, so we started learning how to licence the project.

We now have over 20 partner projects in seven countries with over 1000 people with learning disabilities getting out to gigs and events of their choosing with their new friends and becoming part of new communities.

That chance meeting with Carol set us off on the path to licensing and working out just what it was we were offering:

– How we could share our philosophy and approaches

– Sharing practical resources

– Making sure that the project stayed true to our core principles but met the need of the different locations. Everywhere has different demographic needs, geographical issues and cultural scenes. It was important to me that the licence enabled that to happen.

I also trademarked ‘Gig Buddies’ early on and was glad I did, as there have been a couple of attempts by people to try and create their own versions after talking to us but then deciding to do their own thing.

Lockdown presented a considerable challenge to the project as no gigs were happening, and we were left with the existential question, ‘What are we all about?’ The answer, of course, is ‘connection’, which became even more critical during the pandemic. Suddenly the whole world became used to video calls overnight.

I’d talked for some time at the charity about using regular video calls to connect the community of Gig Buddies projects. But we never got around to it; there was always something else that seemed more important.

However, from the start of lockdown, this changed and we have continued to meet regularly via Zoom with all the partners since then. This has been an excellent addition to the support that we can offer, as there’s nothing like peer support and enabling the creation of relationships between the various projects. We also have annual meet-ups in person.

“They are always different; they are always the same.”

John Peel on The Fall

As John Peel famously said of The Fall, “They are always different; they are always the same.”

That’s how all the partner projects are.

When we find a partner project, we need to find organisations that share our values, but we also want to be sure they share the same mission. That’s about enabling more and more people with learning disabilities to lead great lives.

As I was celebrating with my buddies in Sydney, I was chatting with one of their mums, and she said

“It’s changed my son’s life – it’s just been amazing, and his buddy, is now like one of the family.”

It was just amazing to hear this; there are a thousand individual stories like this.

Celebrating Volunteer week

Gig Buddies would be nothing without our volunteers, and across all the projects, there are now over 1000 people with learning disabilities having a great time.

Not only that, but the project enables them to develop confidence, learn new skills and widen their social networks. Volunteers also get a lot out of it, and everyone is having fun at the same time. That’s why we call the project ‘serious fun’. It’s making significant changes in people’s lives but in a fun way.

Last year, of course, we also saw our volunteers get recognised with an award by none other than The Queen!

We’ve come a long way since starting our small Gig Buddies volunteering project in Brighton and Hove in 2013, and many things have changed significantly, but our core aims have always remained. What is more, some of our original volunteers are still with us.

The secret to a happy life

(Spoiler alert!)

You may have seen this lovely TED talk by Robert Waldinger, where he talks about the result of decades of research and his secrets to a happy life.

Well, one of those is volunteering and connecting with other people.

Thank you to all the volunteers

So thank you to all our volunteers and everyone involved in the journey so far, and we’re looking forward to getting more Gig Buddies projects up and running soon.

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