Love blossoms for couple

Sarah Buckley and Stephen Haywood, who met through the St Annes-based U-Night group's Meet 'n'Match service.
Sarah Buckley and Stephen Haywood, who met through the St Annes-based U-Night group's Meet 'n'Match service.

A friendship and dating agency for people with learning disabilities is in rude health– more than two years after a £50,000 Health Lottery grant allowed it to be established covering the whole of Lancashire.

In that time, more than 500 people have attended the MeetnMatch agency’s events and a number of relationships have been established.

The aim by the agency’s Fylde-based parent organisation, U-Night Group, is for further funding to be applied for next spring when the current grant cash runs out.

Sue Sharples, chairman of St Annes-based U-Night and founder of MeetnMatch, said: “The agency has really made a difference to so many people.

“The aim has been to reduce loneliness, encourage friendships and if people want a partner, to help love flourish.

“Regular nightclub and social events are held locally and across Lancashire, along with training courses about dating and safety in relationships and matching individuals who are interested in being part of a couple or friendship group.

“MeetnMatch is also able to provide a chaperone to support the first date, so people feel safe and comfortable.”

One couple to benefit from MeetnMatch are Stephen Haywood and Sarah Buckley.

Stephen is a director of the U-Night group and feels people with a learning disability should have a chance to form intimate relationships.

Stephen, who lives in St Annes, had his first chaperoned date with Sarah, from Preston, six months ago.

Both had dreamt about finding a partner for years and were delighted when they appeared to be compatible.

Stephen said: “Support staff do not always see it as their role to help with relationships and that means we miss out.”

Now the couple has learnt new bus routes to allow them to meet up every week and also ring each other every evening.

Sarah says that having Stephen in her life has reduced her sense of loneliness and isolation and made her feel more confident.

Sue said: “Stephen and Sarah are a good example of what can be achieved if people with a learning disability are provided with the opportunity to have the sort of relationships that everyone else takes for granted. With the right support we know that love can blossom.”

Call MeetnMatch on 07749 390790 or Lucy@ormerodtrust.org.uk