Overcoming social isolation with Gig Buddies
An interview with Fraser who shares his social experiences connecting with Gig Buddies.
“I wasn’t nervous when I first met Fraser. I was keen to get to know him” Kelly, a volunteer with Gig Buddies Sydney – an initiative that tackles social isolation for adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities and / or autism – has been paired with his buddy, Fraser, for over a year.
“We’ve done a lot of fun things together” adds Fraser. “My top three events would be the Bondi to Coogee walk, the Sydney Kings versus Melbourne United basketball semi final, and the seafood cooking class at the Sydney Fish Markets”.
Fraser and Kelly have attended over 20 gigs during their time together, ranging from NRL, food and drink events and trips to the cinema and theatre.
Fraser, who has autism, not only recounts his and Kelly’s regular outings, but also takes gratification in having someone to talk with: “Kelly’s a good guy. He’s very calm, compassionate and, being older, he has good life skills. He’s helped me work on my independence like catching public transport to new places. He wants the best for people.”
“Prior to joining Gig Buddies I was in denial of my autism. But then I liked talking about it as it made me a more open person. I no longer talk all the time. I have definitely improved my social skills like knowing when to listen, when to talk and when to stop”.
Kelly agrees: “I am a good listener and Fraser loves to chat! We’re happy chatting about the mundane and he’s interested in my life. That’s key for any relationship – it’s not all one way. We talk about our weeks and our home lives, and we give each other advice – like any true friendship”.
How does Gig Buddies work?
Gig Buddies Sydney is a befriending program that tackles social isolation for adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities and / or autism. They match adults with disability with volunteers, both of whom share similar interests. While age, gender and location preferences are taken into consideration, buddies are predominately matched on their particular passions.
All volunteers are vetted and undergo training. Once the formalities are taken care of, the volunteer meets with his or her buddy to discuss the particulars pertinent to their pairing: what kind of gigs they’ll attend; how often they’ll go out; how they’ll travel to events; how they will communicate; while emergency contact details are also exchanged.
Why did I join?
“I had been looking to volunteer my time in something for a couple of years, but I had never volunteered before” admits Kelly. “I love going to gigs and I get a lot out of being Fraser’s buddy”.
As for Fraser, he signed up after spotting the project on TV. “I joined Gig Buddies because I am into rugby league. I saw them on the Channel 9 Footy Show and I thought ‘I want to give this a go’”
While Kelly talks of his desire to meet new people and give something back, he also highlights the importance of having open communication as a way of dealing with any issues.
“Probably the most challenging thing we’ve done together would be the seafood cooking course. We had to sit in a class and watch a chef for an hour. For the following hour we shared a workbench with another couple, and not only did we have remember what we were shown, but we also had to keep up with the chef.
“At times Fraser needed to refocus and that was challenging, but we both made a beautiful meal and we met new people.”
For Kelly, the reason he and Fraser work so well are because they have a mutual love for sport, food and socialising. “For me I am broadening my community – it’s been a very rewarding experience”.
Fraser agrees with Kelly’s assessment on their buddy relationship: “He’s been really great to me. We share similar interests; have similar personalities and we just enjoy each other’s company”.
While the two have attended many events together, Fraser also lists some of the more unique Gig Buddies’ experiences he’s enjoyed. “I never thought I would go on a Halloween boat cruise, meet the Cronulla Sharks first team or attend a Christmas party in the city. It’s nice to go to food events with a friend and not my dad. It’s nice to go to the footy with someone young and not a family member who may not enjoy it as much”.
Fraser concludes by talking about the positive impact Kelly and Gig Buddies has had on his life: “It’s changed me as I hardly went out before and I was socially isolated. I’ve now met lots of people and I’ve had lots of late nights! Kelly and I recently attended the Gig Buddies 5th birthday and I was the last to leave. I never thought I’d get home at midnight on a Thursday prior to joining Gig Buddies”.
Author, Community Engagement Coordinator, Gig Buddies Sydney
For anyone interested in finding out more about Gig Buddies, head to www.gigbuddiessydney.org