Stars in the sky dating and friendship agency
● Number of members: Just under 200.● Funding: £225,000 a year from Big Lottery, councils and support provider Hft● Outcomes: Anecdotal evidence shows improvements in members’ confidence and independence, health and well-being While friendship is something most people take for granted, it can be more elusive for people with learning disabilities.
Research conducted by learning disability charity Hft in 2006 with the people it supported in Leeds found meaningful friendships and relationships were the biggest things missing from their lives.
“When we discussed developing something in their area they were supportive and many provided funding for it.”One is Bradford Council.
The city’s learning disability partnership board has recently commissioned a one-year contract with the friendship and dating agency.
Mairead O’Donnell, the council’s learning disabilities strategic commissioning manager, says: “There are two key areas that feature strongly in support plans for people with learning disabilities: employment and relationships.
Positive move“Having a forum where people can decide how they want to use it, either to meet like-minded people to share interests or to develop deeper relationships,where it is all done in a safe way, is a positive move for us.”The project is also run in Calderdale, north-east Derbyshire and Sheffield, and a support development worker is being recruited for Kirklees.
Social care workers often refer individuals to the service and project staff also signpost members to appropriate professionals for support, for example around sexuality and sexual health issues.
“All dates will be chaperoned, with both parties knowing we are there to help if they need it.After two and a half years of hard graft and fighting for funding, Nicole is finally set to help transform the lives of adults with learning difficulties with Stars in the Sky.Nicole, from Warsash, has already met with some opposition from parents and carers about the taboo subject but, as a mum herself, she is well aware of their concerns.“Her guts and determination to succeed is outstanding – she is the bravest person I know.
“It’s that determination that has inspired me to throw everything I have into setting this up.Hft sought advice from Stars in the Sky, a London-based dating and friendship service for people with learning disabilities, and in 2007 Stars in the Sky Yorkshire was born.