'Gig buddies' learning disabilities scheme to expand
A scheme matching people with learning disabilities with volunteers to attend sporting events, concerts and theatre is expanding across south Wales.
Gig Buddies was set up in Cardiff in 2018 to help people facing challenges in attending social events, which can leave them lonely and isolated.
Hundreds have used the scheme, including 51-year-old Marie Alderman from Cardiff, who has Down's syndrome.
She said she gets "very excited" about trips with teacher Anna-Marie McMahon.
"She's fun, she's great, I love to see musicals with her," she said.
"She makes me laugh, she's a wonderful lady. I get very excited about going to the cinema or a show, especially with Anna-Marie. I've got a nice Gig Buddy."
The pair have been to the musical adaptation of the film The Bodyguard at the Wales Millennium Centre and the cinema version of Aladdin, and they are making plans for more shows.
Anna-Marie, 38, said: "Marie's great, I love going to shows with her.
"I have lots of experience of people with disabilities in my family, so it's a cause that's really important to me and I want to help them to be more included and have more opportunities."
Gig Buddies was set up by the charity Learning Disability Wales, which requires references from the volunteers who also undergo police checks and training.
It has secured another year of funding from First Choice Housing Association and will expand to Rhondda Cynon Taff, Bridgend county and the Vale of Glamorgan.
Project coordinator Kai Jones, said the success of the first year had brought him "to tears".
"We've had people go to metal gigs, Abba tribute nights, cricket, rugby and 80s nights as well as our social events. It's a human right to go out.
"It's all about expanding social circles. People with learning disabilities have difficulties going out at night and Gig Buddies can really help.
"To see those relationships build, it's beautiful."