Lewes-based disability rights organisation Stay Up Late sprung from a situation where people with learning disabilities were finding that many aspects of their lives, in particular their social lives, were being restricted and defined by the working conditions of their carers. A night out would end when a carer’s shift came to an end, for example, meaning people with disabilities were having their night and so enjoyment cut short, against their wishes. “Having an active social life isn’t just a nice extra in life, it’s essential. It’s where we meet friends, develop informal support networks, develop relationships and become part of our community as an equal and active citizen,” says Paul Richards of Southdown Housing who runs the regular Kiss My Disco nights for people with learning disabilities across Sussex. But, of course, carers can’t be on duty 24/7 and that’s one reason why Stay Up Late set up a scheme called Gig Buddies to match people with learning disabilities with music fans who can support them to go to gigs. Stay Up late received £5,000 from the Seedcorn Fund we manage on behalf of East Sussex County Council last year to support development of Gig Buddies. The fund gives grants to groups piloting innovative approaches to delivering services.
Advocacy is the name of the game these days. “The bottom line is that people with learning disabilities need to be supported to live the lives they choose, whether that’s staying up late or going to bed early. We don’t mind, as long as they have made that choice,” says Paul.