£25,000 funding award to help people with learning disabilities find love

A community interest company has received a grant from C&M Transforming Care Partnership, to launch and develop their friendship and dating agency into Cheshire & Merseyside.

Spring into Action have received a grant of £25,000 from C&M Transforming Care Partnership, to develop Meet ‘N’ Match – a friendship and dating agency for adults with a learning disability and/or autism.

The organisation, which has been running since 2012, took over the Meet N Match project in June 2018, after its founding organisation The U Night Group, felt Spring into Action was more able to develop and grow it, while they concentrate on developing relationship training.

They have been running the agency ever since, growing it from a Lancashire only service into Greater Manchester and now into Cheshire and Merseyside. Kate Daly-Brown, Programme Director for the Transforming Care Partnership, said, “We are delighted as a partnership to support this project for the Learning Disability and/or Autism community within C&M to come together and meet new people and develop positive relationships, especially in light of the challenges over the last year from COVID”.

Director of Spring into Action and Project Coordinator of Meet N Match, Lucy Hamlin, said, “I have been working on the project since 2016, and people in the Cheshire & Merseyside areas have been asking us for the last 2 years to bring the project here.

“This grant will help us expand and develop into the Cheshire and Merseyside areas and we are so grateful that the panel understood what we are trying to achieve and are supporting the development of the project over the next 12 months”

The Meet N Match project has been running in Lancashire since 2016; over that time, it has provided opportunities for people with learning disabilities and/or autism to meet new people, both for friendship and romantic connections. This funding means that for the next 12 months they are able to further develop and enable people with a learning disability to meet new people and potentially find love across a wider area.

Lucy adds, “We are more than just a dating agency, yes people can join and we can look for matches and support them to start, develop and maintain friendships and relationships, but we also provide social activities where people can go for a night out, and relationship training, where we teach people how to date and how to stay safe in relationships.

Generally, people with a learning disability have limited opportunities to meet their peers and to form lasting connections. This can leave them feeling lonely, isolated and depressed. We know that this is one way of improving people’s physical and mental wellbeing, whilst opening up possibilities for the kind of relationships that others take for granted”

The organisation, which is based in Accrington but has staff in Blackpool and works with partners across the North West has been able to recruit a new member of staff who will be based in Birkenhead, to be a key contact for anyone in this area.

Erin Blanchard, Events and Marketing Coordinator.

Erin Blanchard, Events and Marketing Coordinator said: “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this project. I will be based in Birkenhead and reaching out across Merseyside & Cheshire, an area which I feel has been overlooked in terms of services specifically designed for dating and friendships for people who have learning disabilities and/or autism, until now.

“I believe active social lives & healthy relationships are the cornerstone of maintaining a person’s overall wellbeing and having a learning disability shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving that. I can’t wait to meet people, to match people, and to enable our members to take those first steps to finding new friendships & love!”

Lizzie Winkfield, Membership Coordinator for Lancashire and Greater Manchester said, “Having the extra team members means we can better support people across a wider geographic area, as we have more staff able to take on some of the workload.

“Covid has been a really difficult time for people and we have had to move our service online, but we have been able to continue matching people and supporting them on zoom dates, as well as provide online social activities which will now also be available to new members from Cheshire and Merseyside.”

The Meet N Match project provides support for the first three dates, assisting people to make the arrangements, this includes a chaperoned first date and ongoing support. Lizzie adds, “The chaperones are an invaluable resource. For some of our members, this is the first experience of dating that they have ever had.

“Dating can be a daunting experience for anyone, there are lots of nerves and excitement, but also worry about what to wear and how to act. Having to meet someone online via zoom is also challenging as some people have never had to use video calling before, so having a chaperone really helps people, they can make the initial introductions on a date and then be around for practical or emotional support before, during and after a date.”

Spring into Action say that they hope to move back to face to face dates as restrictions ease but say it is unlikely they will be able to put on large social events for a while. Lucy adds, “While we are really keen to get back to our pub nights out, we have to follow the rules and we will be looking at how we can enable people to meet up in person following the government guidelines.

We are so grateful for this funding as it offers a great opportunity for some of the most vulnerable local citizens to get together, with a view to finding anything from someone with a shared interest to finding true love.”

There will be an online information drop-in session on the 1 st April for more information about the project, what a membership includes, any questions and answers, and how to sign up.

Contact Erin Blanchard, Membership & Events Coordinator, on 0782 814 2611 or email erin@meet-n-match.co.uk to register interest in the online information drop-in session and to receive the Zoom link.

Main image: Pre-COVID photograph of members and volunteers at events.

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