Cambridgeshire

Dating agency brings 'hope' to adults with learning disabilities

Elizabeth Felton Image copyright Elizabeth Felton
Image caption Elizabeth Felton says having a learning disability can be "isolating"

A student says a new dating agency for people with learning disabilities gives people like her "hope" that they can find new friends and love.

Not-for-profit Safe Soulmate has been established by Christine O'Neil and Vicky Baddeley to tackle loneliness in Cambridgeshire after a £10,000 lottery grant.

About 130 people have signed up to its first event in Cambridge on Saturday.

Elizabeth Felton, 25, who is attending, called it "an amazing opportunity".

"I think it's brilliant because more things need to happen for people with learning disabilities to give them a chance. To give them hope," said Ms Felton, who was born with the rare growth Beckwith Wiedemann syndrome and has a moderate learning disability.

Ms Felton, from Ely, said she hoped the occasion would help her find "more friends and relationships", as well as tackle her depression and anxiety.

"I'll focus all my energy on [the event] and I won't have time to think about myself," she said.

Image copyright Safe Soulmate
Image caption Friends Christine O'Neil and Vicky Baddeley wanted to tackle "isolation" among people with learning disabilities

Safe Soulmate, which caters exclusively for adults with autism and learning disabilities, is due to run as a pilot for six months after receiving money from the National Lottery Community Fund.

It was set up by Stretham residents Mrs O'Neill, 38, and Mrs Baddeley, 46, who both work with people with learning difficulties.

Mrs Baddeley said the response to their idea had been "overwhelming", with the first Cambridge meet-up being oversubscribed.

"We did a consultation in 2017 and everyone was saying, 'Hurry up, we need this now'. That was coming from social workers, support workers, and parents who were saying how their children were so lonely," Mrs Baddeley said.

Image copyright Safe Soulmate
Image caption Safe Soulmate's first free event in Cambridge is full with 130 people signed up

Saturday's event will include a silent disco, table magic and nail bar.

Mrs O'Neill said there would also be a twice-weekly social group in Cambridge for people who wanted to "find like-minded friends and love".

"We knew there was a demand but we didn't know it would be this large," said Mrs Baddeley. "Parents have said they've been waiting for us."

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