Grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives

FAQs about Gig Buddies

What is Gig Buddies?

It’s a volunteer befriending scheme for adults with learning disabilities and autism, matching them with a volunteer who shares the same interests.

Gig Buddies recognises that many people with learning disabilities don’t have many people in their lives who aren’t paid to be there. The aim of the project is therefore to support people to develop new social circles and informal support networks.

The act of volunteering while you’re doing something you already enjoy also makes the act of volunteering easier, releasing more social capital in our communities.

What is the youngest age group you work with?

We work with anyone over 18 years old (this is specific to Stay Up Late's Gig Buddies in Sussex. It could be for other age-groups depending on the organisation running the Gig Buddies project in that area).

This is because Stay Up Late is set up as a charity to support adults with learning disabilities. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t work for you if you were an organisation supporting younger people (as an example).

There is no upper age limit and it isn't just for young people! Although the majority of people attracted to the project are 18-35 in Brighton our current oldest Gig Buddies are in their late 60s.

Who is the scheme aimed at?

Anyone can get involved but we’re particularly interested in working with those people who get little, or no, funded support as there is a risk that this group of people will be most at risk from social isolation.

We believe that if someone has funded support then it should be possible for them to enjoy an active social life with some creativity and flexibility from their support staff. Stay Up Late are always happy to be commissioned to do some staff training if teams need help with this.

Do volunteers get training?

Yes – all buddies go through our training programme. This is generally one day and covers areas such as an introduction to learning disabilities, communication, safeguarding and ‘what to do if’ scenarios. (Sometimes we will run the training as evening sessions too).

The training is co-facilitated by a Gig Buddy participant who has a learning disability to explain more about the project.

All volunteers complete DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks to make sure they are suitable to support adults at risk. We also ask for 2 references - one professional and one personal character reference - but this should not be a family member.

We also ask that new pairs of buddies come to a social for their first gig together we're on hand to provide any support too.

Do you do risk assessments?

Our volunteer training covers general scenarios to enable volunteers to understand their responsibilities should an emergency happen. We also conduct specific risk assessments in partnership with participants and their support staff at the matching meeting to address any specific risks the volunteer needs to know about.

What do you do to make sure people are kept safe? 

All of our volunteers attend a day long training session which includes talking about safeguarding signs and symptoms.

We see it as a two-fold thing: 

  • Ensuring that people are as safe as they can be when attending mainstream gigs and festivals, and also in being out in town at nigh time. 
  • Ensuring volunteers understand their role is also partly about being aware of what their buddy is saying to them about other aspects of their life, and to know when to flag up something of concern with us. We’ll then pass this on in an appropriate way. 

We also conduct individual risk assessments with participants to consider any individual support needs and so they know how to disclose any safeguarding concerns about their volunteer. We have two safeguarding officers at Stay Up Late; Paul Richards, the director, is the safeguarding lead who is available at all times for emergencies, and the Gig Buddies project manager is then second safeguarding officer. Either party are able to contact us at any time for advice or to discuss anything that they are concerned about.

Can volunteers drink? 

No is the short answer! Volunteers have a responsibility to ensuring that their buddy is safe and even one pint can impair your judgement should an incident happen. 

Participants with learning disabilities can drink if they choose to, but our experience is that they many don't choose to and they have told us that this is due to their budget and/or medication. Some may have one or two. We ask participants to think about their drinking too so the night out is pleasurable for both buddies. 

Can you provide a volunteer for a one-off gig?

No. Gig Buddies is all about developing friendships and expanding an individuals’ social circles and informal support networks.

We won’t be able to provide one-off support to bolster staff hours or cover sickness. That’s not what we’re about.

Who decides on the buddy?

The team at Stay Up Late meet everyone who gets involved in the scheme, participants and volunteers and will conduct an initial interview. This will enable us to make an informed decision about who to match with who.

The participant and volunteer will then be introduced to each other during a match meeting. It is during this match that you find out your buddies support needs and interests.

We always suggest coming to one of our social meet-ups as your first gig out together.

Participants and volunteers are also offered ongoing support and if for whatever reason it’s not working out we are happy to find a different volunteer.

Central to our core values though is that we want to change the power balance for people with learning disabilities so we believe they should be firmly in the driving seat when deciding if they like a volunteer or not. After all Gig Buddies is about building friendships.

On rare occasion support staff have tried to make and end matches. We don’t believe this is appropriate.

What if the pairing doesn't work out?

That's totally fine, again we believe it is important to ensure that the buddy with a learning disability is in control of making decisions about who their buddy is. If it doesn't work we'll offer support to see if there's something we can do but on the rare occasions it doesn't work at all that's fine, we'll support someone to find a new buddy.

We'll also support the buddy not to feel bad about themselves - sometimes these things happen and we'll work with them to find a new matching.

How much does it cost?

Gig Buddies is a free service but we would expect a participant to pay their gig tickets and travel costs. We will reimburse volunteers for their expenses. (We can reimburse gig tickets up to £10 if carers tickets are not available).

We rely on funding to keep going so would appreciate any offers of support.

Is it all about music?

No – we encourage people to say what their ‘gig’ is. That could be playing/watching sport, walking, going to the theatre or church. Whatever someone’s interest we’ll aim to find a match.

Do you have a waiting list?

Yes – we are restricted due to funding as to the capacity of the scheme. We also pride ourselves in Gig Buddies being a high quality service where we take time to get to know everyone. This means it can take a while before you go out to your first gig.

As an example our current waiting lists are:

East Sussex – 9 months to 1 year

West Sussex – 9 months to 1 year

Brighton and Hove 3 – 6 months.

Waiting times all depend on how many volunteers we have in an area, as well as your interests, transport needs and a range of other factors.

Are you a user-led organisation?

Yes – all participants are invited to be part of the Storm and Thunder Team (our advisory group) and The Wild Rainbows (our LGBTQ+ advisory group), which advises on the project and links with our board of trustees.

How do I get involved?

Click on the link to our project page and complete the short form and we’ll be in touch.

Do you organise gigs?

No. We believe that all events should be for people with learning disabilities and Gig Buddies is all about being involved in mainstream community life. We therefore leave it up to pairs to decide where and what they see. (We do of course organise the occasional fundraiser gig and party to celebrate the project with everyone involved, and the wider community).

We do however organise social meet-ups for buddies in pubs so people can share their experiences and meet each other.

Why are you only in Sussex?

We often get asked this and it’s simply because that’s where we’re based as a charity! However, we’re really interested in helping other organisations and groups to set up their own Gig Buddies projects, and have supported new projects to start in Halifax, Portsmouth, Edinburgh and Sydney. If you’re interested in finding out more please contact Paul Richards, Director, email

How do buddies arrange gigs?

Buddies are encouraged to meet up for a coffee once a month and look through gig listings together, we also suggest that they phone and text each other. We're also developing a web app which we're hoping will enable buddies to easily find out what's on, check out videos of bands and work out their gig life together.

The preferred way to do this can be discussed during the match meeting.

How can carers and support workers help somebody with Gig Buddying?

The biggest challenge we find is that it's sometimes difficult to make sure there's good communication between volunteers and buddies. That's where support staff can come in and make sure that dates have been written in the diary and that the staff team are 100% behind enabling the relationship to flourish. It's also important that staff are aware of the best way of communicating with a buddy (phone, Facebook, email etc).

We ask that support staff remember that Gig Buddies are volunteers and need to be treated (and loved) as such!

How do buddies get to the gigs?

This all depends on individuals and what they are comfortable with doing. If they live in a large town, and are confident at using public transport, then they may well meet up at the venue, or a familiar meeting place. If someone lives rurally, or isn't confident at using public transport, the buddies may arrange to meet at the participant's house. Getting home will be the same sort of arrangement and we aim to match people based on a whole range of things, including transport requirements and so will take in to account whether a volunteer drives or not too.

How are volunteers recruited? 

We find our volunteers through all sorts of ways, Universities, venues, employees of local companies, word of mouth and us advertising at various events and online. In some cases we'll target specific interest groups if we're looking for a volunteer with specific interests, or in a particular part of the county.

Can companies do 'Gig Buddying' as part of their corporate social responsibility?

We would welcome any companies that want to support our work and encourage their staff to become Gig Buddies on a long-term basis, however, the whole emphasis of Gig Buddies is about establishing relationships with people with learning disabilities and so it isn't suited to one-off pieces of volunteering.

However, in our ‘strategic dream’ we’ve been thinking about ways in which we could work with larger organisations such as housing associations and aim to develop this area of our work in time.

If you're interested in talking about how we might work with your organisation though please get in touch.