Learning Disability Week: Gig Buddies launches appeal to get people with learning disabilities digitally connected

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Gig Buddies is a programme by national charity, Stay Up Late, that supports people with learning disabilities to see live music through their volunteering befriending service. In response to the coronavirus lockdown, the charity has brought many of its services online including; virtual coffee mornings, art clubs, evening socials and @Coronavirusfest – a virtual music festival that takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm and 9pm to keep their beneficiaries, supporters and general public connected through music.

photo of two women in a call on zoom

Bethan and Lucy get connected via zoom

Gig Buddies is running an emergency appeal during this Learning Disability Week from 15 – 21 June (and beyond), to help their participants that don’t currently have access to the internet get online. It costs £220 to provide a participant with a smartphone and get them digitally connected.

A significant number of people with learning disabilities have been facing an increased level of isolation during the coronavirus lockdown because they can’t access the internet.

25% of people with learning disabilities, supported by national voluntary befriending programme Gig Buddies, are locked out of the digital connection that so many of us are using to stay in touch with friends.

Gig Buddies is asking for donations to help provide a smartphone to someone with a learning disability, helping them stay in touch with friends and giving them access to Gig Buddies’ online community.

Although lockdown restrictions are lifting, people living with a learning disability are not alone in feeling confused and anxious about the new rules and how they apply to them. They are also impacted by having a higher risk of respiratory issues, may be dependent on carers and those in supported living accommodation are subject to the Government’s more stringent protection measures that apply to care homes. Being connected digitally will continue to play a major role in tackling the isolation that people with learning disabilities felt even before lockdown began.

Paul Richards, Director of Gig Buddies said:

“The Coronavirus crisis has highlighted bigger inequalities for people with a learning disability who aren’t online. While many of us are staying connected with our communities online, people with learning disabilities are more cut off from society than ever before.

“Without access to the internet, a time like this is a very lonely place to be. Especially if you already know what it feels like to be socially isolated because you rely on a support worker to access the outside world.”

photo of two women smiling at the camera

Bethan and Lucy at a gig pre-lockdown

Bethan and Lucy have been gig buddies for almost four years. Being connected by video call has made all the difference because they can see each other dancing and feel properly connected.

Bethan is considered to be in a vulnerable group so even with lockdown lifting, she will still feel the increased levels of isolation she’s experienced since it started. She relies heavily on the vital social lifeline that being connected digitally gives her.

Lucy said: “The one thing both me and Bethan have in common is our love of dancing. To keep in touch, I set up a Saturday evening dance party where I DJ-ed and we danced together on Zoom.”

Bethan says: “Lucy makes me feel more confident and independent. I love hanging out with her. We can still see each other on video and dance. I have also gone to the Gig Buddies coffee mornings on zoom to see my friends each week and love watching the live music on Gig Buddies @Coronavirusfest.”

For more information on Gig Buddies and to donate to their Emergency Appeal, visit https://gigbuddies.org.uk/emergency-appeal-covid-19/