Where are we in social care with people’s right to party?

Where are we in social care with people’s right to party?

Throughout our years of campaigning, the charity has tried different ploys to grab the public’s attention: beds in the street, rowdy pyjama police and lots of staying up late and practising what we preach. 

Most recently, we celebrated ‘National Stay Up Late Day’, where for the first time we invited people across the country to join us. Whether you’re an adult with lived experience, a support worker, carer or ally, the idea was to get behind the movement and party for people with learning disabilities’ and autistic people’s rights. 

We want to take this moment to look back at the successes and failings of National Stay Up Late Day, and what this says about the state of social care and people’s ability to have a social life.

National Stay Up Late Day

The idea was simple: get people talking by all partying at the same time. People’s night out could be whatever they wanted (food, dancing, games…). It was just important to be with friends, in your community and ideally out later than usual. 

We also thought it would be a great test to see if people could do it.

Paul, founder of Stay Up Late, out partying for disability rights. On the back of his shiny gold jacket it says #NoBedtimes.

Language around having a social life has shifted within the disability sector and a lot of services have started, if not quite talking the talk, hitting a few key notes. We have spoken before about the fact that most people within care don’t vocally disagree with us, and yet nothing changes (leading us to believe that maybe they’re not quite as on board)… So what we wanted to know was, would they walk the walk. 

The response, as ever, was mixed. We had some strong efforts from disabled people’s organisations and individuals, a few wonderful support workers and some dedicated family members. Unfortunately, we also had a great deal of silence and concern.

The sound of silence

We quickly realised that organisations and individuals had very different reasons for being silent. Organisations were concerned about having to put on a whole event, especially given the time constraint. Whereas, with individuals it was a question of communication and support. So let’s look at that.

Overcomplicating the simple things

Prior to the day, we received multiple apologies for not having enough time to organise a big event. Herein lies a common problem, we are trying to replicate the simple moments of life in care but overcomplicating and getting ourselves in a tizzle in the meantime. We didn’t ask you to go to a big event, or even stay up all-night, we just asked you to go out.

That’s not to say we don’t recognise the amount of effort organising any social gathering can take. But it can be done simpler. Our current desire to create well-planned and perfectly-attended events is simply not serving us. A more authentic, flexible and potentially slap-stick way of working would be a step in the right direction. Because as it turns out, it’s still too difficult to go out on a Friday night, even with two months’ notice. 

A wider question is, once we remove concerns of capacity and time, is there something more damning lingering in the shadows? Is it actually a question of prioritisation and what people think is important within care? Are the majority just paying lip service whilst continuing exactly the same? We really hope not.

How to feel safe on a night out

There were also concerns from the would-be partiers. One individual had joined us many times before (and has a penchant for glitter and clubbing), but this time felt too nervous to come alone or get a taxi unaccompanied. Despite our efforts to find a solution, this person just didn’t feel safe. 

The reasons why are too complicated and intricate to go into here, but let’s start by asking ourselves what can we all do individually to make nightlife a more welcoming place. People shouldn’t be made to feel unsafe and that’s everybody’s responsibility.

Good support around people with learning disabilities and autistic people is also crucial. Obviously to make sure people are safe, but also to make sure they feel safe. We have a history of championing risk-assessments at the cost of all else (as Bryonny Shannon nicely puts here). This can make us tip too far one way, demonising a night out and all that comes with it. There’s lots to consider and we’d never take safety lightly, but we need to find a better way to educate people around their own safety than fear-mongering. Checking out our guide to a safe night out is not a bad place to start, and being there for people to talk through their worries.

Booze, partying and staying up late doesn’t have to be extreme or bad, it can just be fun. As my mother would say, balance is key. 

A person-centred approach always

Another issue we had was that we weren’t reaching our community. Despite sending out texts, multiple emails and posting all over social media, we found that many people still weren’t aware of the Day or how to get involved.

We realised we’d been contacting people en masse and that just doesn’t work for most people. Some of us may need a bit of extra support and a personalised approach to make things happen. It’s not just as simple as creating an opportunity to go out, you also need to help people get there. And yes, this can take time, but as we realised yet again, it’s so worth doing…

Stay Up Late team and community in the club at the end of the night mid-way through dancing.

“Are you having fun? Yes, I’m happy, like a duck”

The above is a quote from our National Stay Up Late Day, and I thought a good way to bring us back to the positives. The Stay Up Late campaign is founded on the power of joy, focusing on all that we can do, and so although the response was mixed, it was a success for those involved and a reminder of what we fight for.

In Brighton alone, over 20 of us met at 9pm at the North Laine Brewhouse, before heading over to Spiegeltent to dance the night away. Both were great for accessibility and the staff at Spiegeltent really went that extra mile (thank you). Having supportive and responsive venues makes such a difference and we’d hail both these places as party allies!  

Highlights of the evening include dancing over 20,000 steps, singing our hearts out to the big ballads and enough pop to melt your brain. One of our revellers said she’d never been up so late and another had a timer to see just how long she’d been out dancing (she was rightly excited when we got to the five hour mark). Small but very poignant moments of joy.

A new normal

One of our partiers said he realised that he’d never seen people with visible learning disabilities at a club night before and that you could “see the difference it makes on people’s faces”. It being the ability to go out and access the same things we sometimes take for granted. Once again reminding us of the power of a good night out and the ability for us to create a new normal.

Other charities (shout out to our Gig Buddies partners in Bedford, London Central and Wales) and individuals around the country went out and did the same. Their photos and stories are proof that with the right support and attitude we can really make a difference.

To quote one partier with learning disabilities, “[the night was] freaking amazing. Don’t stay in, go out, cause it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity”. 

But let’s make sure it’s not once in a lifetime or leave it until 2025 to plan our next night, you free next week?

Thank you for taking the time to give us a read. If you want to get more involved in the Stay Up Late campaign, sign up to our newsletter, email florence@stayuplate.org, or head to our campaign page to find out more.

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Florence Little

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