Dates-n-Mates, a national dating and friendship agency run by and for people with learning disability, is celebrating its tenth anniversary.
By Michael McEwan
The Scottish-based agency is a project overseen by national charity, C-Change, that supports people with a learning disability, mental health issues and other additional needs, empowering people to live their life to its fullest potential, whilst being active citizens within their community.
The agency continues to develop the project that started out in Glasgow in 2008 expanding to include Aberdeen and Renfrewshire. Each branch offers its own lively local programme of events, ranging from regular bowling nights, dining out and walking groups to special events such as Valentine’s parties and their annual ‘We Got Talent’ event. In addition, members can also take part in matched dating and training on relationships, sexual health and social etiquette.
Safe and inclusive
Events are held in a safe, friendly and inclusive environment. Anyone over 18 with a learning disability can become a member, giving them an opportunity to connect, make friends and develop meaningful relationships. This in turn helps to counter loneliness, and social isolation whilst building members’ confidence and self-esteem within other aspects of their lives.
I recently spoke to project lead for Dates-n-Mates Scotland, Lesley Miller, to find out more about the organisation. “It’s my job to ensure that we are meeting members’ wants and needs, providing then with lots of opportunities to get out and about, meet new people and have new experiences.
As the agency is specifically for adults with learning disabilities, we do a lot of different things to ensure that members have a safe and enjoyable experience with us. My primary role is to ensure that all branches follow the same processes and procedures and that we are doing everything we’re supposed to.”
She continued: “People often meet their friends and partners through their work – but people with learning disabilities are much less likely to have jobs. In Scotland only five out of every 100 people with a learning disability have a job, but they still want to meet partners and have friends. If people don’t have work, volunteer or go to college, then how and where do they meet other people? Life can be very lonely and they may feel isolated, particularly if the only people they see are family or support staff.
Recent studies have shown that loneliness can cause a lot of mental and physical health problems with effects on the body similar to those of a heavy smoker or living in a damp house. A recent survey by The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland (LDAS) recently showed that 80% of people with learning disabilities of all ages across Scotland experience loneliness. Dates-n-Mates provide opportunities and support to help people find love and friendship, and that can totally transform lives.”
Clearly, people might be nervous about attending their first session but Lesley wants to put their minds at rest, saying: “Yes, people are always nervous about coming to Dates-n-Mates at first, but then realise that our members are friendly and welcoming. We even have ‘Friendly Faces’ ambassadors at events to help new people to mix. Then, as people get to know each other and go to different places, they start to realise that they can do these things and become more confident in themselves.”
Although the agency has a large pool of staff, C-Change and Dates-n-Mates are always looking for volunteers and offer opportunities to suit all skills, talents and availability. Volunteers are valued and supported and encouraged to enjoy themselves.
Dates n Mates
Dates-n-Mates has achieved so much, as you can tell from some of the comments from members and their families, below:
T’s mum said: “T has started a new voluntary job and he loves it, Dates-n-Mates has made such a difference to him, I can really see change in his confidence. It’s been great”
S said: “We meet more people, that means more practice at socialising.”
M said: “Dates-n-Mates has given me heaps of confidence, not just in life but in work too, I can travel around Glasgow on my own now. I was petrified before but now I wander around the city and do different things. If it hadn’t been for Dates-n-Mates I don’t think I would do that. My dad can’t believe the difference in me.”