Gig Buddies: Coronavirusfest

Q&A with Kate Ogden

Recently Gig Buddies for good mental health moved in Upstairs at ONCA to join our co-working community. Gig Buddies have just launched an amazing initiative called the Coronavirusfest so we caught up with Gig Buddies Project Manager Kate Ogden.

Gig buddies sound people

What is Gig Buddies?

Gig Buddies is a volunteer befriending project, founded by Stay up Late in Sussex to match up socially isolated and lonely adults with learning disabilities and/or autism to a volunteer who likes the same kind of music to go to gigs together. It was started because lots of people with learning disabilities and/or autism were not getting support in the evening to be able to attend live music events. Most people have support during the day for shopping or cooking, but if their support finished at 9pm, just as the headline band arrives on stage, they were being told it was time to go home just as a gig was starting. There are loads of other barriers to people with learning disabilities being able to get to gigs – such as worries about safety in the community, transport issues, not having anyone to go with or knowing what’s on.

We realised these things can also be a barrier to other minority groups so are delighted that Synergy Creative have launched our sister project ‘Gig Buddies for Good Mental Health’ in Sussex to support people with mental health challenges to also attend gigs and cultural events across Sussex. We now have 14 other gig buddies projects around the UK and in Sydney Australia, all fighting for the right to party.

As an organisation that focuses on live music, how has Gig Buddies responded to the social distancing measures put in place to combat the Coronavirus?

We had a team meeting as soon as the social distancing measures were put in place and explored the idea of how we could keep our gig buddies feeling connected to their community and still get some form of social interaction that is vital to their wellbeing. We decided we would organise virtual open mic slots or DJ slots online for our gig buddies to log into and watch together so they could talk about it with their gig buddy volunteer afterwards, just like when they would be going out to a gig.

Can you tell us more about the Gig Buddies’ Coronavirusfest?

Then we thought, why just make this exclusive to Gig Buddies? Social isolation is now affecting everyone and could have a negative impact on everyone’s wellbeing. So Coronavirusfest was launched – and in the first few hours it got a shout out from Lauren Laverne on BBC 6 Music as a ‘community in action’ good news story and artists started to sign up to perform. Our first gig is this Friday 20th March and we will host 2 slots a night at 8pm and 9pm and continue for as long as there is demand for it – but we need musicians to sign up too!

Do you think that the Gig Buddies’ Coronavirusfest may help develop a framework for alternative gig experiences?

Although we don’t think we can replicate the real gig experience, for people who cannot get out of the house this could change things for the better long term for them as people adapt to this new situation. We have been exploring the idea for the last couple of years anyway, trying Virtual Reality experiences and online sharing – you can see some of our videos on the Stay Up Late YouTube channel we made with Make Real. These videos are of gig venues in Brighton which we filmed empty, filling up and at capacity for people who suffer from anxiety who haven’t been to a gig before to know what it might feel like in a venue before going. I’m sure there will be a lot more creative ideas coming out of this negative situation – the possibilities are endless!

How can people keep up-to-date with your upcoming events?

You can ‘like’ our Facebook page ‘Gig Buddies Coronavirusfest’ where we will post the live gig times as performers sign up.

What hopeful message do you have for gig makers and lovers doing this time?

It feels like a very turbulent and unpredictable time for musicians, performers and audience members who have been looking forward to seeing their favourite artists on stage. But there is an opportunity here to help stop spreading the virus by staying away for now and spreading the love for your musicians instead. Situations like this bring communities together especially when it impacts everyone, and music is something we can all still enjoy anywhere!