< View the directory
  • Staying well, connected to others and resilient
  • Supporting people to contribute and do things they enjoy

Gig Buddies Connecting people to share social activities

What is the problem this innovation solves?

Gig Buddies is a project run by Stay Up Late  which pairs up people with and without a learning disability with people in Sussex to be friends and go to events together. 

The problem is that  people with learning disabilities and/or autism face social isolation and are not being active in their communities. This is down to a number of factors such as:

  • Not enough funded support hours for social activities.
  • Inflexible staff support that won’t enable people to be active in the evenings and at night.
  • Low motivation and confidence and other mental health related issues.
  • Lack of accessible information about what’s on locally.
  • Perceived and real fears about community safety.
  • Difficulty in accessing public transport at night.
  • Not having anyone to go with.

A sort of solution has been offered in the form of ‘inclusive club nights’ for people with learning disabilities. However, if you want to go and see your favourite bands, or simply want to experience something else these don’t provide a real solution. They’re just a stepping stone on the path to real inclusion.


Gig Buddies is a volunteer befriending project that matches up socially isolated people with learning disabilities and/or autism with a volunteer who shares the same musical and cultural interests.

It’s all about defining what your ‘gig’ is – which may be punk, ballet, nature walks, museums etc. It’s up to the individual to decide what it is they love doing.

Through this we’re also able to make the act of volunteering easier as it’s about enabling someone to go with you to an event that you’d have enjoyed going to anyway. This means it’s easier for volunteers to find the time, and already have a shared passion to talk about with someone.

(All volunteers are vetted and receive training and on-going support).

At the heart of Gig Buddies is that people with learning disabilities are at the centre, it’s about mainstream cultural activities and most importantly it’s about friendship and having people in your life who aren’t paid to be there.

Evidence base

We had a good idea there was a need for a project like Gig Buddies from our own observations about the lack of people with learning disabilities we saw at mainstream events but we also wanted to check this was based in some fact.

We commissioned some research through the Community and University Partnership Programme at the University of Brighton to find out what obstacles there were to people with learning disabilities going out in the evening. This was conducted with people with learning disabilities and family carers. We found the main reasons were:

  • Lack of support (and lack of flexible support)
  • Difficulty accessing public transport
  • Low confidence and motivation
  • Not having someone to go with
  • Lack of accessible information about what was on
  • Perceived and real concerns around community safety
  • Lack of money

But we also found there was an absolute desire to be involved in mainstream community life in the evening. There just weren’t enough opportunities for this to actually happen.

Expected impact

The overall outcomes that we expect are:

  • People with learning disabilities are less lonely and have more friends
  • People with learning disabilities are empowered to make more choices about how they live their lives, and widen their experiences
  • Communities become more inclusive
  • Volunteers have a great understanding of the needs of people with learning disabilities

Stage/spread (where it is/how much is there?)

Gig Buddies started in Sussex and there are now 90+ active pairs of buddies regularly going to mainstream events across the county.

(We also arrange informal social meet-ups in pubs to engage with people on our waiting list).

Gig Buddies is also now a social franchise with partners in Sydney (Australia), Edinburgh, Croydon, Portsmouth, Calderdale, Cardiff, Bradford, Bedford, Sheffield, East Riding, Oxford and Glasgow.

What would councils/local areas need to do or have in place to enable it to happen?

Councils and local areas really help in making the project happen (as they have particularly in Portsmouth, Calderdale and Croydon) and they’ve also provided us with some funding to expand the project across Sussex.

Matched funding from local authorities has really helped in developing these new partner projects.

The project works when a progressive local organisation takes on the role of delivering the project and the council supports with some financial assistance as well as other practical support (advertising the project to social work teams etc)

As councils come under more and more financial pressure this is a good solution to finding a way to protect the health and well-being of people with learning disabilities whilst also shaping the way local communities work in a positive way.

What would kill it?

You can’t run a good volunteer befriending project like Gig Buddies on thin air. You need skilled co-ordinators.

Another thing that would kill it is too much expectation from a local authority that Gig Buddies will solve everything for them! Matching people well can take time as does recruiting the right kind of volunteer (especially in more rural areas).

Concerns about safeguarding. There are some unfounded ideas that mainstream gigs and festivals are inherently dangerous places.

This may be true of some (but that safety risk would exist for anyone) and so we do a lot of work to minimise any potneital risks, but also to advertise what we do in way that demonstrates that we do all we can to make budding as safe as possible.

The other thing that would kill it is if it doesn’t work in way that upholds the core concepts:

  • It’s about mainstream cultural activities
  • It’s about people with learning disabilities taking the lead
  • and most importantly it’s about friendship and having people in your life who aren’t paid to be there.

It’s not to be seen as a free support service!