Music has been a safe haven for millions of people since its beginning—a place to escape hardships, a place to hold memories, a place to be whoever you imagined yourself being. The importance of music is often underestimated by most, but that’s not the case for Given To Live Founder, Tom Pugh. We’ve been following the organization’s story and all he’s doing for disabled music fans all the way in the UK, even going so far as to bring them to the US to give them a chance to see their dream concerts and meet their idols. We’re big fans of all he’s making happen, which prompted us to go to the man himself and ask some questions.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
A: It’s a toss up between the smile on the face of the person we’re taking or the person who applied for them. It means so much to both—receiving something so special and also seeing someone you care about receiving are both very powerful. Also, the impact being that special person can have huge impacts on those with mental health issues, especially depression. Knowing someone is in a better place is hugely rewarding.
Q: What are 2-3 of your most memorable concerts?
A: I’ll always remember the first. The Foo Fighters and taking a young girl, Kayleigh. At the last minute, a meet & greet got organised and as wonderful as it was for Kayleigh, I felt very out of my depth. Couldn’t afford business cards let alone GTL tees so I’m passing my number on a scrap of paper wearing a Pearl Jam shirt. Although I’d love to have done some things differently the most important person was Kayleigh and she had the time of her life.
Taking Joshua to see Pearl Jam was special for me. Pearl Jam is my (favorite) band and GTL exists out of my love for their music and activism, so to take someone to their show was very special. Joshua has Cerebral Palsy and music, Pearl Jam, is his comfort, expression and often his safe place. He loved it, and towards the end of the show he was standing for a few moments unassisted for the first time in his life. And Eddie Vedder gave him and Given To Live a shout out before playing Joshua’s favourite song, Love Boat Captain.
Download ’15. We took, Kelvin, a wonderful young man, to see Slipknot and meet Corey Taylor. Since then we’ve done another Slipknot and a Stone Sour, and Corey has been so generous to GTL and the people we’ve taken. I can’t mention Corey without also mentioning Michelle from Cosa Nostra PR who has given GTL so much help and support; she’s a superstar!
Q: What’s the biggest struggle you face with running this organization, especially doing it all on your own?
A: Funds and contacts. When I started GTL I knew no one in the industry, today my contact list isn’t much longer than that. Getting tickets is often a struggle and of course reaching the bands themselves. I’m very aware neither I nor GTL are names with clout and we’re only four years old next month. In June, I’m walking 150 miles to Pearl Jam’s London show to raise funds and on the day of the show there’s 46 people climbing The O2 Arena raising funds as well which will help.
Q: What prompted you to start GTL?
A: In ’06 I overdosed and if someone hadn’t been with me I wouldn’t be writing this. Alcohol and drugs had been my go to to manage anxiety and trauma since I was young. That was summer ’06 and I quit in the October and have stayed clear of alcohol and drugs since. Years of therapy and other personal development have allowed me to face the issues that I needed to, rather than pretend they don’t exist. In the summer of ’13 I had a deeply moving realisation that I am alive listening to Pearl Jam’s Alive. It hit me deeply that I escaped death and this needed to be honoured rather than be a fact. So I gave myself my dream holiday and went to the States to see Pearl Jam 5 times.
At the last show, on my 46th birthday, I heard about a young fan who had been mugged early in the day and lost everything. I knew I needed to help so I bought her the show poster and used the tube as a collection box and went down the GA line raising some money to help her out. I realised how lucky I am to be able to work, to go to a show. I’d been doing it since my first show as a 15yo and only hadn’t when I’d been a mess using or my mental health wouldn’t let me. So I thought, “I want to help others who aren’t so fortunate, who struggle to face the day and need to feel special and create something that could make this happen.”
Q: What is your biggest fear when it comes to GTL?
A: That it stays where it is and doesn’t grow. There’s so much I’d like to do with GTL as a vehicle for change in people’s lives, but funds limit the work we can do. A band supporting the work we do would help, a chance to sit down with people in the industry and show them what their funding could do would be my biggest dream. I’ve had emails and messages thanking me for saving a life, saying I’ve stopped self-harming and I have something to live for. I know, given the chance, there is so much Given To Live can do. I have dreams, I just need a little help to dream them into living.
Given To Live is an incredible organization with an insane amount of heart behind what they do. Tom makes dreams come true for those who would otherwise not get to experience things that we take for granted. As amazing as it is, they can’t do it all alone. If you’d like to help, please consider making a donation to Given To Live.
To learn more about Given to Live, please visit giventolive.com.