We asked Michael at the time, ‘When did you decide that you wanted to marry Mandy and spend the rest of your life with her?’
Michael ‘I realised early on that I had met the right girl, we just hit it off together right from the first date. I thought I think I’ll have this one’ (both laughing)
Mandy ‘We’ve had our up and downs, but Michael has always been there for me, like the time when I lost my mum. There is a lot of trust between the two of us. We’ve come so far, and are going to go all the way by getting married next year’.
This month we caught up with Luv2MeetU, a friendship and dating agency for adults over 18 with a learning disability.
The organisation supports their members to make friends, share interests and develop relationships.
Offering a range of mainstream activities, from club nights to country walks, theatre visits to meals out, they also offer a one to one dating and chaperoning service where people are matched on similar interests.
What need is there for Luv2MeetU?
Back in 2006 research was done, and it was acknowledged that there were very few opportunities for people with learning disabilities to come together and socialise as we all like to do. There was nothing in the Yorkshire area which catered for people with learning disabilities in this way.
The following year ‘Stars in the Sky Yorkshire’ was established in Leeds and Wakefield, and then in 2010 we became a registered Community Interest Company, a social enterprise that is run and managed by people with learning disabilities. At the same time we changed our name to Luv2meetU as decided by our members.
From our beginnings in Leeds/Wakefield we have since established ourselves in Calderdale, Bradford, Kirklees, Sheffield, North East Derbyshire, Cheshire West and most recently Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside.
What has been the most rewarding moment since Luv2meetU was set up?
We have had many fabulous moments at Luv2meetU, but one couples relationship sticks out for all the right reasons!
Michael and Mandy met through Luv2meetU in 2007 at a speed-dating event. As the night progressed and they got chatting, the pair discovered they had a lot in common, even attending the same school as children. Luv2meetU staff helped them arrange their first chaperoned date a few days later, and they have continued to date ever since.
After eight years together, the couple became engaged. Their story was subsequently featured on the local television channel ‘Made in Leeds’, and the Luv2meetU team successfully applied to the Extra Special Trust for an engagement gift of £150, which paid for Michael and Mandy to have a special weekend away together.
It can be difficult to make new friends if you have a learning disability. Many people feel that meaningful friendships and relationships are the biggest things missing from their lives. That’s why Luv2meetU is so important, it offers its members a chance to get out and about and make friends in a safe and comfortable environment.
All of us deserve to know love and acceptance in the context of a special relationship. Michael and Mandy are the living proof that learning disabilities don’t need to be a barrier to a loving, stable partnership.
What are the benefits?
Luv2meetU aims to support people with learning disabilities to widen their circle of friends and develop friendships and relationships – helping to combat isolation and loneliness and improve overall health and wellbeing.
One example of this is Simon. Simon quite openly admits that before Luv2meetU he had few friends. Simon has Asperger’s syndrome and so struggles in the basic elements of social interaction, which in the past has reflected in his failure to make and develop friendships.
Since joining Luv2meetU he has had the opportunity to meet with other members who have a similar condition, and has established a network of friends. In addition Simon is now able to support new members specifically those with Asperger’s that are nervous of attending our events and might feel awkward in communicating with strangers or even beginning a conversation. Simon is doing a great job of this, he has taken on his new role with ease. Simon now not only has a new friendship circle himself, but is also providing a solid platform for new members who are on the autistic spectrum to engage and interact with likeminded people.
How have funds like from Leeds Community Foundation supported the project, what difference has this made?
Since receiving the funds we have been able to increase the number of events we have run across the Leeds and increase the numbers of members who were able to attend these events. These events have included regular meals out to some of our members favourite restaurants, we have attended an outdoor moving showing, a farm trip, craft classes, single mingle nights, the list goes on and on
What is coming up next for Luv2meetU?
We have recently been successful in securing a bid from the Big Lottery Fund. With these funds we are now rolling out a new buddying scheme where the buddy volunteer will support one of our Luv2meetU members whilst sharing a similar hobby or passion – helping them to develop confidence and independence.
Buddies are there to support someone to have fun doing what they love. This might include going to gigs, playing sports, help with travel, there are numerous possibilities. This is the first service of its kind to operate in West Yorkshire.
In addition following some research carried out with some of our autistic members, we are looking now to run some ‘autism specific events’. The piece of work we carried out looked at how literature should be presented, how best to support someone with autism before, during and even after the event, and then looking to establish a database of autism friendly events and venues. Our first event will be run this month.
Find out more: www.luv2meetu.com