East Croydon Cool talks…Gig Buddies

East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we caught up with Cherilyn Yeates, the Project Manager at Gig Buddies Croydon.

Gig Buddies matches adults with learning disabilities to volunteers who have similar interests to go to events, gigs & activities together. Gig Buddies aims to ensure that people with learning disabilities don’t miss out on a social life. The project helps to combat social isolation faced by many people with learning disabilities, by enabling people to make friends who have a similar interest to them.

Gig Buddies Croydon is run by local charity Club Soda and is currently the only organisation in London running Gig Buddies. The Croydon project has attracted around 30 volunteers and buddies but they’re looking for more! We caught up with Chez to find out more about what’s involved.

When did Gig Buddies start?
Gig Buddies was started in 2013 by Sussex charity, Stay Up Late. The charity was founded to fight for the rights of people with learning disabilities to ‘stay up late’, have access to gigs and events in their community and not be restricted by support worker shifts when out socialising. Gig Buddies was a practical solution to the inflexible support that many people with learning disabilities face; by matching someone with a volunteer who has similar interests so they could stay out as late as they want and have more freedom, choice and independence. Stay Up Late eventually grew the project by creating a franchise, boxing up the Gig Buddies project and trialing it in different areas of the country (even Sydney Australia!)

How long has it been operating in Croydon?
After a pilot year in 2017, Gig Buddies Croydon officially launched in April 2018 and we have just celebrated our first year anniversary!

How does it work?
Volunteers and Gig Buddies come find us online or through word of mouth. Volunteers are interviewed, DBS checked and complete volunteer training. Both Volunteers and Gig Buddies attend our social events to meet new people and get to know the community we have built. We will also host smaller socials with potential pairings to see how people get on. We take our time to match people on their shared interests or personalities that vibe well. It’s a careful process and we always make sure the pair have met a few times to ensure they are both comfortable and to create long lasting friendships.

What events have you done in Croydon?
Pre-covid – at least once a month, we host a social at a local cultural venue for everyone to meet up, chat, get to know each other and have fun. Venues we have been to include The Oval Tavern, The Ludoquist Cafe, FunHouse, Stanley Halls, Limitless VR and loads of other cool places.

Do Gig Buddies groups from around the country ever get together?
We have partner days once a year where all of the projects come together to discuss what they have been doing, share stories, brainstorm and work through any issues. During lockdown we collaborated on a 12 hour online festival where all the projects had a slot to play music, sing, dance or whatever! Minus a few technical hiccups, it was pretty radical!

How did you manage during lockdown?
It’s been tough for us, as it has for everyone. Our whole project is based around exploring local nightlife, making connections and having an active social life – so it was hard to see how we could stay connected in a lockdown and keep our community engaged. We started by creating a weekly newsletter to share activities people could do online and keep a conversation going with our Gig Buddies. We then began to run online social events, one bigger event every 3 weeks and a coffee morning catch up on Zoom every 2 weeks. We have been able to build a dedicated group of people who attend and the attendance actually seems to be increasing as time goes on.

It seems like friendships within the wider community have grown stronger through the Zoom events, and we’ve seen some Gig Buddies becoming much more confident. It’s been crucial for us as a team as well, to keep connected with people and have some fun in these strange times. Our online events have included online discos, a pub quiz, dress up guess who game, arts and crafts in collaboration with Collage Club London, karaoke nights and more wild nights! We have been able to start matching new pairs virtually as well, and have matched 2 new pairs of buddies, which is really exciting as we didn’t think this was going to be possible.

What do you look for in a volunteer?
Firstly we look for someone who is Croydon based or in the surrounding boroughs and is over 18. You don’t need any particular experience to be a Gig Buddy Volunteer, but we look for people that:

  • are kind, patient and friendly with a sense of humour
  • are willing to get to know somebody well
  • love meeting new people
  • care about social inclusion
  • are proactive and reliable
  • love to have fun!

What has the feedback been from buddies?
I think the best way to answer this, is for you to hear it straight from them! Over lockdown we asked some of our buddies to record themselves talking about their matches, what they get up to and the importance of their friendship. You can watch all the videos HERE.

What is the future of Gig Buddies?
We have funding secured until 2022 so until then we will be continuing to match new pairs of buddies, host fun socials and connect people with and without learning disabilities in Croydon to create a more diverse and inclusive local nightlife. We will be applying for funding to continue after that time! For now, we are taking it day by day in terms of the lockdown and continuing to deliver online events to keep our buddies engaged and continue to grow the strength of our community.

How does and interested Gig Buddy or Volunteer get in touch with you?
If you or someone you know has a learning disability and is based in Croydon, want to meet new people, grow your confidence and independence OR if you are interested in volunteering with Gig Buddies Croydon, are excited by the idea of making a new friend and supporting them to be able to access new opportunities…you can get in touch with us by emailing cherilyn@gigbuddiescroydon.co.uk or find out more at www.gigbuddiescroydon.co.uk

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