Gig Buddies embrace new opportunities to enjoy arts and develop friendships

Gig Buddies Hull and East Riding
Gig Buddies Hull and East Riding enjoying a gig night out earlier this year.

Gig Buddies Hull and East Riding is finding new ways of bringing young people both with and without a learning disability together, to tackle stigma and loneliness during these challenging times as the country goes into lock down.

The Gig Buddies movement was started by Stay Up Late in Brighton and is delivered by the UK’s learning disability charity Mencap in Hull and East Riding as well as other locations.

Gig Buddies Hull and East Riding, a befriending project for young adults with a learning disability, launched last summer, and now has an active membership of buddies who are matched based on shared interests including trips to music gigs, theatre shows and more. The project is funded by the Co-op Foundation, and its aim is to reduce loneliness and isolation for young people with a learning disability and tackle stigma. 

Gig Buddies logo

Mencap research shows that one in three young people with a learning disability spend less than one hour outside their home on a typical Saturday and that people with a learning disability are seven times more likely to experience loneliness than the general population.

The group has had a very busy first few months, enjoying lots of arts excursions together.

Emily Clixby, organiser of the Hull and East Riding Gig Buddies project, said: “Since the project launched, we have matched a number of buddies and we’re already seeing friendships develop and young people with a learning disability feeling happier and more socially accepted. Hull Truck have been amazing – they offer pay-as-you-like tickets as well. Middle Child were great, they gave us ten tickets to go to panto at Christmas which made a huge difference as people with a learning disability can often struggle to access events like this because of the cost. We’ve been to Trinity Fest too, and to gigs by local bands. The local community has been incredibly supportive and have helped the project to get off to a great start.”

She explained how the closure of local venues and theatres as a result of the coronavirus outbreak came as a blow to the relatively new project, but the group was not deterred by the new social distancing rules.

She said: “Although we have had to stop our Gig Buddies meeting up in person for the time being, we were determined not to put the project on hold and to look at creative ways that we could bring our Gig Buddies together virtually. People with a learning disability will be finding this challenging time more difficult than most people and we didn’t want them to be feeling even more lonely and isolated during this time. Gig Buddies is part of a wider movement of similar projects across the UK, it started with a project in Brighton called Stay Up Late. They’ve set up a ‘coronavirus festival’, and they have live music every night between 8pm and 9pm, so buddies are watching those gigs online and we have been innovating to keep our buddies connected too.”

Not all buddies with a learning disability have access to the internet, though, and some struggle to use technology independently. Most of the buddies live at home with their parents and carers, others live in supported living homes, but some live independently. It’s those that live alone that are most at risk of being socially isolated, particularly at the moment.

Emily said: “For those buddies that don’t have the internet we’re writing letters, we’re posting things off to them. I’m writing one at the moment and putting a little puzzle book and a CD in there too. We’re encouraging our volunteers to stay in touch with their buddy in this way too.

“We’ve created a Gig Buddies play list as well. People have picked their top five songs, it’s nice knowing that someone else has chosen the music and that everyone is listening to it.

“We’re trying to find different ways to engage people that don’t have the internet as well.”

Many of the city’s performing artists are now embracing virtual opportunities to share their creative output. There has been a real, and welcome, explosion of streams appearing across social media each evening this week.

Emily said: “I’m searching, at the moment, for things to share with our Gig Buddies, especially things that are Gig Buddy friendly. We’d really welcome artists getting in touch with us, inviting us to engage.

“Gig Buddies is all about going out and accessing night-life and enjoying culture. Now that going out is impossible, we’re looking at different ways of continuing, but not doing it all online. I think people forget that not everyone has access to the internet, and some people with a learning disability struggle to access technology independently. That’s why what we’re doing is so important for our buddies who have a learning disability to make sure everyone feels included and supported during this time. Although we may be a part that we are not alone, all of our Gig Buddies are part of the Mencap Family and we’re all looking out for each other.”

If the city’s artists have ideas of how they can engage with this group, the Gig Buddies would love to hear from you.

Twitter: Gig Buddies Hull and East Riding

[Jerome Whittingham – editor HULL IS THIS]

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