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  • Writer's pictureThe Small Charity Week team

Spotlight on: Living It Up

Living It Up provides social and educational opportunities for adults with learning disabilities and autism. Founders Fizz Heseltine and Claire Crawford-Smith share the incredible impact they’re having in and around Bedfordshire, and the value of local community support.


The Living It Up team

Tell us about Living It Up’s work and aims


Our organisation, which kicked off 15 years ago, was sparked by a simple yet powerful campaign: “Stay Up Late”. This initiative highlighted the restrictive curfews faced by individuals with autism and learning disabilities, who were often required to be home by 9pm. So, we organised a one-off party to support this cause. Little did we know that single event would ignite something much bigger. 


The response was incredible. People who came said it was the best night of their lives. For a lot of the people we support, their only social outlet before this was a disco in a school hall from 6pm to 7.45pm, with a little sandwich in between. And we thought: well, that's not how I go out and party.


This has been our main ethos underlying everything: everyone deserves equal opportunities. We realised how fortunate we are to have the freedom to make choices, and we wanted to extend that to those with learning disabilities too. 


We refuse to accept a world where individuals are told when they must go home. Instead, we advocate for the right to choose when to leave, just like anyone else. 


How are you making a difference to people's lives?


One of the most impactful moments for us was when we witnessed a member who had previously struggled with social interaction and self-confidence take to the stage at one of our Performing Arts Centre showcases. Through our programmes, they had discovered a passion for singing and performing. Seeing them shine on stage, surrounded by cheering friends and supporters, was truly an incredible moment.  

 

Living It Up isn't just about providing services – it's about building a supportive and inclusive community where everyone feels valued and accepted. It’s seeing people blossom and grow in confidence when they’re afforded the opportunities that everyone should have. We’ve seen people who never thought they’d be able to speak in front of people get the chance to be incredible performers, musicians, and radio presenters.  

 

What we do really does make a difference to the confidence of the people we support and work alongside, and it’s also created brilliant connections within the wider community.  

 

Where we see a need, we just go about making it happen. We started off with no money and no funding – we just had a vision, a laptop, and a musician with a guitar. But we knew there was a need. We believe in creating accessible spaces that allow people to thrive – and everything else will follow.  


A group of people with learning difficulties and autism enjoying themselves at a Living It Up event

 

What role do volunteers play in the running of Living It Up, and what impact do they have? 


We couldn’t do anything without our volunteers. From assisting with event coordination to providing one-on-one support to participants, to even just helping us with decorating the space – our volunteers are incredible.   

 

Many of our volunteers have been around for years, and they all have too much pride in what they’re doing. They really can’t do enough for us – and that’s what helps us know what we’re doing is right.  

 

We're all just one big family. We just help each other out – the community has really pulled together time and time again. And I really think that community ethos and spirit makes the organisation what it is. 

 

What are some of the challenges you face?

 

Funding, funding, funding. Like many small charities, funding is always a challenge for us. Securing sustainable funding streams to support our existing work and our efforts to expand the services is a constant uphill battle.  

 

We're doing quite well financially, but not well enough. And we just constantly play catch up. 

 

But the community support is just amazing. Even our local council is just so supportive. We don’t get any funding from them, and although it would be great to be funded for the services we deliver, we know there just isn’t the money there.  

 

So, although our funding situation could be better, we still feel grateful. 

 

How do you feel small charities like yours could be better supported?


When it comes to funding, we believe funders need to recognise the contribution that small charities make to society and provide more tailored support and funding opportunities.

 

We don’t have enough money for a dedicated grants team. So, it becomes really difficult to secure the funding when it can be so time consuming. And we just can’t afford to employ a team of people. We aren’t experts, we’re all just learning on the job and doing a bit of everything – and so understanding from people about the realities of running a small charity goes a long way.  

 

Small charities like ours rely heavily on the generosity and support of our local community. Whether it's through donations, volunteering, or simply spreading the word about our work: every bit of support makes a difference. We genuinely couldn’t ask for more from our wonderful supporters.  

 

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