Gig Buddies Croydon celebrates after receiving £106k from the National Lottery for befriending scheme


The volunteer befriending scheme, Gig Buddies, is celebrating after it received just over £106,000 from The National Lottery Community Fund to launch in Croydon, following the program’s pilot last year. The project, run by local charity Club Soda and supported by Croydon Council, matches adults with learning disabilities and autism with a volunteer who share the same interests to combat social isolation.

Gig Buddies Croydon welcomed the funding with a launch event last week at BoxPark Croydon, with performances from Club Soda DJs, to bring together old and new buddies and the public to build a community of like-minded people. Since being awarded the funding in March, the project has attracted around 20 new volunteers and beneficiaries waiting to be paired up. The buddies are matched together based on their interests and organise social outings together, which can be anything from heavy metal gigs to musicals or cinema trips to walks in the park.

As the only Gig Buddies project in London, the project will now hold monthly socials in Croydon for the group to enjoy the local nightlife and to meet new people. The project aims to combat social isolation and loneliness faced by many people with learning difficulties and enable them to access practical support to go out in the evenings.

Jan Keane, whose daughter Holly has been matched with volunteers through the project says: “Gig Buddies  gives her an opportunity to meet and mix with young people of her age and enables her to go to venues and pubs without her parents, but in a safe and supportive way. This is particularly valuable to my daughter who is an only child and therefore does not have the opportunity to go to concerts and venues with siblings. The project has given her confidence to go out in the evenings and enabled her to do age-appropriate activities.”

Club Soda in Croydon  has been running since 2009 and took on Gig Buddies as a pilot programme last year, following its success across the UK through other organisations. The Sussex-based charity Stay Up Late started the first Gig Buddies scheme in Sussex and Brighton. This was following Stay Up Late’s national campaign to ensure that people with a learning disability receive support after 9pm as some care homes have inflexible staff rotas, which mean that many adults with a learning disability can’t access practical support to go out in the evenings.

Rosie, Gig Buddies Croydon volunteer, says: “Being a part of Gig Buddies Croydon has been such a positive experience for me so far. The socials have been really varied and a lot of fun and a great chance to meet new people, see a few bands, play some board games and even watch a cabaret. I’m really looking forward to another year of it!”

Sacha Rose-Smith, Head of Funding for London at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “National Lottery funding continues to change the lives of thousands of people across the capital. We’re delighted to fund Gig Buddies Croydon, who are focused on providing supportive social opportunities to combat social isolation and loneliness. With their ideas, knowledge and passion, this money changes lives and helps communities thrive.”

The National Lottery Community Fund distributes money raised by National Lottery players for good causes and is the largest community funder in the UK.