Checking out bands, cheering on your team or sampling cultural activities is part of everyday life for many of us. If you have a learning disability, however, you may require assistance to do the things most of us take for granted. With support workers tending to work inflexible shifts, many people with disabilities are often deprived of the opportunity to lead full and active social lives.
Gig Buddies Sydney is an initiative that pairs up adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities (and/or autism) with a volunteer, both of whom share a mutual interest and, in turn, end up going to events together.
Based on a British model, the project was first launched in Brighton in 2011 after project founder, Paul Richards, identified a need for people with learning disabilities to stay out beyond the time when rostered support staff call it a night.
The concept arrived in Australia in February 2015 after Gig Buddies Sydney CEO, Carol Smail, invited Paul and the team Down Under to help launch the initiative. Run in conjunction with ACL Disability Services - an organisation with 50 years’ experience assisting adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities and autism - the Sydney leg has so far recruited over 350 volunteers and 200 gig buddies (adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities and/or autism) and, to date, has paired up 50 gig buddies.
Gig Buddies Sydney strives to tackle social isolation by providing a friend who is neither a paid support staff member nor parent. A gig buddy has the confidence and empowerment to lead a life they wish.
Gig Buddies Sydney is a simple concept; it’s about two friends going out partaking in their passions. We put an emphasis on the volunteer - 90% of whom have never given their time or interacted with someone with a disability before - benefiting just as much as the gig buddy.
When it comes to lining up a successful pair, mutual interests, age, location and gender are taken into consideration; both the gig buddy and volunteer (who are vetted and trained) apply via our website: www.gigbuddiessydney.org
Social isolation among adults with disabilities is not an issue exclusive to Sydney, and we’ve had great interest from around Australia. For anyone looking to bring the Gig Buddies concept to their part of the world, our contact details can be found via our website.
Matthew Collins is the social media coordinator for ACL Disabilities Services and Gig Buddies Sydney and he has worked in the disability sector for three years. He tweets from @Taunton_Hotspur.
Images supplied by Gig Buddies Sydney