Our Annual General Meeting – Paul’s reflections

Our Annual General Meeting

Paul, our Executive Director, reflects on this year’s meeting

This year’s Annual General Meeting was another fantastic celebration for the charity, being our first in-person once since 2019. We also received The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service from The Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex. We’re told it’s not easy to get one of these awards, but it is if you have as many fantastic volunteers working across the charity as we do. A huge honour for us and all our volunteers.

Our purpose and creating connection

The past year has felt very much about getting reconnected. Coming out of lockdown, rebuilding our confidence and reconnecting with our communities.

We’ve always been thinking about our ‘Manifesto for an Ordinary Life’. This helps us consider the primary purpose of the charity – supporting people with learning disabilities to have great social lives and live the lives they want.


I believe many solutions to our problems won’t be fixed by creating more services for people with learning disabilities. Much of what is needed already exists in the community. We just need to find ways for people to connect through projects like our Gig Buddies and Sports Buddies projects.

I recently read a great quote from our friends at Social Care Future. It read something like, “Social care shouldn’t be a place or a service. It should be the air that we breathe”.

We’ve settled into life at our new base at Hove Methodist Church, and it’s been wonderful to be part of this community. It’s enabled us to have socially distanced meetings (when that was a thing) and welcome people dropping into the office for a coffee and a chat. It’s also facilitated connecting with the other organisations based in the church building.

There’s Nam Yang teaching people kickboxing, Food and Friendship running lunch clubs and the church’s Chatty Café, which will host our Public Living Room once a month. There are people with learning disabilities making use of all these groups and activities and creating new connections and friendships in the process. It’s great to be part of this.

Making great stuff happen for people is about creating the right conditions. It’s about creating the right ‘air to breathe’. That’s indeed happening in our little corner of Hove.

Getting our confidence back

It was a huge celebration last year when we held our silent disco. This was our first tentative step to reconnect after a long time apart.

So many of us found it challenging to make that move back into going to gigs and busy public places. So we’ve been working with people with learning disabilities to discover our tips for getting our confidence back safely.

The campaign ambassadors have been doing some great work around this.

Sports Buddies

It’s been wonderful to see the development of this project over the past year. We’ve got 20 matched pairs of buddies doing all manner of sports and physical activities from boccia, walking, football, walking football (!), rambling, Parkruns, dancing, badminton, etc.

They’ve had many great socials; most activities were free or inexpensive. We want to make this a clear message as the cost of living crisis starts to take effect.

We don’t need to spend money to keep fit and healthy – you do not need a Peloton, despite what the adverts tell you!

Gig Buddies

The project continues to be a great success, with many referrals from social work teams, support workers, family carers and self-referrals. Unfortunately, this has meant we’ve had to close our waiting lists again so we can aim to match people up. We don’t like doing this, but we’re a small team, and the demand for the project is huge.

It was great news to get another 5 years of funding from the Big Lottery. It means we can really plan for the future.

One thing we have changed is making it much easier for volunteers to sign-up. We have made the process more conversational (not asking loads of questions through our website form). We continue to get good numbers of volunteers signing up.

We are also in the process of changing the way we manage our volunteers and our matches. After 3 years, they probably don’t need much support from us with their friends, so we will focus our support on newer matches. That’s not to say we’re not around if our help is needed.

Facts and figures

We’ve produced this infographic of some of the key statistics about the Gig Buddies and Sports Buddies projects, and some of the headline numbers are:

60 new volunteers trained

35 buddies matched

4560 hours of volunteering – 0r 190 days which is an awful lot of late nights in anyone’s money!

Our advisory groups

Central to the running of the charity is our belief that people with learning disabilities should be given a voice in everything we do. So it was great to see our advisory groups meeting again and the new Sports R Us group looking at the Sports Buddies project.

It was also fantastic to link up with our friends at Photosymbols after the Wild Rainbows had fedback that there weren’t enough photos of LGBTQ+ people with learning disabilities in their photo library. The result was a fabulous photoshoot, with the photographers commenting:

“They’re not exactly shy wallflower types are they?” – They’re not wrong there!

It’s also been great to work with the local charity Extratime. We’ve been supporting them in finding ways to embed the participation of young people with learning disabilities in their work.

Campaigning work

We decided to shut down most of our online meetings but not the Campaign Ambassadors group, which was a great success because of lockdown! It enabled us to connect with self-advocates from around the UK and has grown from 12 people to over 40.

This next year their focus will be skilling up more people in their local areas to become campaign activists.

The Gig Buddies Community

It was terrific to welcome Carol from Gig Buddies Sydney, our first partner project. Now we have 18 Gig Buddies projects. Another success from lockdown was using monthly Zoom meetings to connect with all the partners, share ideas and challenges and create an excellent peer support network.

It was also wonderful to see people from Gig Buddies Bedford there too. Due to the awful weather, their train home got stopped at Burgess Hill (just outside Brighton), so they got off the train and went to the pub. They finally got home at 3am.

The photos of them making the most of what could have been a bit of a disaster were just joyous. Living the Stay Up Late dream!

We also had a wonderful day in Bristol recently connecting with many partner organisations workshopping on current ideas and issues we’re all working on.

The Quality Team

It was exciting to see the work of the Quality Team start up again. So far, they’ve done one visit, working with local support provider Grace Eyre and conducting peer visits to supported living services.

Supporting our work

We’re grateful to all the people and organisations who support our work through funding and fundraising of all different kinds.

Also, a special mention to our friends Aideen and Denis, who raised an incredible £5,270 through their Cupani Open Garden this year. We reckon they’ve probably raised nearly £50,000 towards our work over the years!

Receiving The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

This was the focus of our Annual General Meeting and was a massive deal for us and fantastic recognition for the work of all our volunteers; buddies, trustees, campaign ambassadors, fundraisers and advisory group members.

These awards are not easy to come by, and it’s the equivalent of an MBE for a community group, the highest honour bestowed on community groups in this country.

The thing about awards is that there’s a risk we can rest on them. We aren’t going to do that. We are going to keep challenging ourselves to do better and improve.

In one of our recent campaign ambassador meetings, I talked about the issue of awards and how they shouldn’t last. I asked them if we created an award for support staff and what it should look like.

One of the group suggested a firework, which is an excellent idea but probably too dangerous to put in the post. Another suggested the award be a cake.

I love this idea. In fact, it’s genius. You get the award, enjoy it in the moment by eating the cake, and then move on. If you want another cake next year, you’ll have to do even better!

(Or you can choose to sit on the award and watch it go stale).

Other highlights of the year

Receiving The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

There have been numerous highlights:

– Returning to Brighton Pride

– Glastonbury Festival

– Being featured on the BBC One Show

– Working with Glyndebourne Opera and the Royal Albert Hall to make their performances more inclusive

– Being part of the launch of the Independent Venue Community

– Being invited to speak at Doune The Rabbit Hole and spend the festival with Gig Buddies from Scotland

– Welcoming new trustees to the board

– Carousel’s ‘Fairground Tour’ enabling learning-disabled artists to play a tour of different Gig Buddies projects.

We’re a small charity, but we continue to punch above our weight and make change happen much further than we can do directly.

The future

We’ll focus next year on supporting people through the cost of living crisis. As I say, staying healthy and having fun does not cost anything.

We’ll be doing a lot of work around measuring and demonstrating our impact and launching our new 3-year strategy.

On top of that, we’ll be announcing some new Gig Buddies sites in the UK and maybe elsewhere!

Thank you to everyone who is part of our work and for being part of our fight for the right to party!

Paul Richards, Executive Director, @heavy_load

Copyright © 2021 Stay Up Late. | Web Strategy and Design by Merseyside.agency