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Let’s rock ‘n’ roll …. New ‘Plug In’ sessions for people with learning disabilities

MUSIC lovers and performers who may also happen to have a learning disability are being invited to join in a special “Plug In” gig.

Mel Boda, chief executive and co-founder of the Electric Umbrella charity, said: “We’re inviting people to plug in, switch on, and get ready for the ride of their life with this campaign.

“We want everyone to experience the joy and power of music and see how it brings people together from all walks of life.

“Best of all, it’s completely free to join Electric Umbrella, and you don’t need any referral from your local authority.”

The Hertfordshire based charity was set up five years ago by Mel and Tom Billington to provide a platform for learning disabled people to enjoy live music, and in doing so challenge the perceptions towards learning disabled people.

The charity organises gigs, musicals and even festivals.

During the Covid-19 pandemic Electric Umbrella launched online sessions bringing fun interactive shows, singalongs, often with inspiring guests, for their hundreds of members, many of whom relied on these social and creative sessions.

Guests have included celebrities Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Toyah Willcox, Andrew Self, Dan Gillespie Sells from The Feeling and Tony Hadley.

Dan and Tony also sang on the charity’s Christmas single, The Best Christmas (In Lockdown).

This “Plug In” campaign features four ambassadors Farrah, Jonathan, Ryan and his mum Jenny, and Amy.

Jonathan Watson, 22, from Tring in Hertfordshire, has severe OCD and anxiety.

He said: “The first concert I did I was excited but nervous at the same time. When I managed to get myself singing and playing the drums everyone was just like wow!

“I was jumping on stage, I never felt so happy in my life for a long, long time, and just seeing a lot of people happy and knowing I’ve made them feel happy makes me feel really proud of myself.

“Electric Umbrella helped me to get the confidence to sing and they feel like an amazing family.”

Amy Barrett, 34, from Stone in Staffordshire, has a rare chromosome abnormality Jacobsen Syndrome. She said: “When I was young mum and dad told me that a doctor said I’d never walk or talk and look at me now. They are so proud of me for what I’ve achieved.

“I have found something that I love with Electric Umbrella and my confidence has grown so much. It is a wonderful organisation and makes me feel happy and warm and fuzzy inside.”

Farrah, 17, from Shropham near Norwich, has a rare genetic condition, William’s Syndrome, which affects her spatial awareness but she’s always loved music and joined Electric Umbrella last year. She said: “A year ago I was miserable and sad, I didn’t know what to do with myself, I didn’t even make friends.

“Electric Umbrella has helped me to achieve lots of things that I never thought I could.”

Ryan, 18, from Watford, appears in a moving film for this campaign with his mum Jenny, where she talks candidly about how being part of the Electric Umbrella community helps them both. Jenny said: “Ryan has a great sense of humour and he’s known as an entertainer.

“Electric Umbrella has become a bit like a family for us because there are so many other parents of people with special needs so there are people I can go to for advice.”

During lockdown over 1,500 people  joined the Electric Umbrella community, and they have huge ambitions to grow that number with a blend of digital first and face to face sessions planned in the months ahead.

Creative Director and co-founder Tom Billington said: “We believe our members can do anything they want and be anyone they want to be and we encourage them every step of the way.

“We’d love to see a world where people are no longer defined by their disability but they are recognised for their incredible talents.”



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