A charity which uses the power of live music to enhance the lives of people who are learning disabled launches a new campaign this week called ‘Plug In’ to invite everyone across the UK to join their community.
The Hertfordshire based charity Electric Umbrella was set up five years ago by Mel Boda 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, operatas, musicals and even festivals.
Members regularly say they feel left behind by society and placed on the sidelines. Sadly, many of them have also experienced discrimination and say they could achieve far more than what’s expected of them, if given the right opportunities.
During the 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 to get them through this difficult time.
Guests have included celebrities Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Toyah Willcox, Andrew Self, Dan Gillespie Sells from The Feeling and Tony Hadley – the two latter also sang on the charity’s Christmas single The Best Christmas (In Lockdown).
This campaign features four amazing ambassadors Farrah, Jonathan, Ryan and his mum Jenny and Amy.
Jonathan Watson (22) from Tring in Hertfordshire is a long-term member of Electric Umbrella. He has severe OCD and anxiety.
Electric Umbrella participant Jonathan, 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.
Electric Umbrella participant Amy Barrett, 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 called William’s Syndrome which affects her spatial awareness but she’s always loved music and joined Electric Umbrella last year.
Electric Umbrella participant Farrah Moss, 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.
Electric Umbrella participant Jenny Young, 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.
Electric Umbrella 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.
“Our members are so full of energy and embrace life with such enthusiasm. I believe if more people had these qualities the world would be a better place.
“When the pandemic started we found new ways to bring music to our members by starting online sessions and we discovered this is a brilliant way to reach so many more people.
“We’ve created this amazing community online which is why we have launched this campaign Plug In to encourage others to join Electric Umbrella online sessions.”
Mel Boda, Electric Umbrella’s chief executive and co-founder added:
“We’re inviting people to plug in, switch on, and get ready for the ride of their life with this campaign. Everything has been co-produced with our ambassadors, of which all our ambassadors have been absolute superstars!
“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.”