A talented young man from Tring has landed a leading role in a new campaign by a charity which uses the power of live music to enhance the lives of learning disabled people.
The campaign launched by Electric Umbrella last week is called ‘Plug In’ and encourages everyone across the country 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, they just need to be given opportunities.
During the pandemic they 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).
Jonathan (22) from Tring in Hertfordshire has OCD and anxiety and he is a long-term member of Electric Umbrella. He shows off his singing talents in a film for this campaign and talks about why he enjoys performing for people and how the Electric Umbrella community has helped him.
Electric Umbrella participant Jonathan Watson, 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.
‘Even though I’ve got issues, being on stage helps me to overcome them. Electric Umbrella helped me to get the confidence to sing and everyone there just feels like an amazing family.’
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.’
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 Jonathan has been an absolute superstar!
‘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.’
For more information visit electricumbrella.co.uk.