£50,000 lottery cash for group to start dating and friendship agency

Pictured are the organisers of U-Night L-R Sue Sharples, Stephen Haywood, Dorothy Owen, Kevin Holden and Lizzie Smart.

Pictured are the organisers of U-Night L-R Sue Sharples, Stephen Haywood, Dorothy Owen, Kevin Holden and Lizzie Smart.

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A group for people with learning difficulties is to set up a dating and friendship agency for its members with a lottery cash windfall.

U-Night, a community interest company which has grown from small beginnings at the Ormerod Trust charity in St Annes to having more than 100 members in Fylde, Wyre and Blackpool, has received a £50,000 grant from money raised by healthHeal through the Health Lottery.

The funding will enable the group to develop social and leisure activities and set up a dating and friendship agency - thought to be one of the first of its kind in the country - covering the whole county.

The expansion is also set to bring three new part-time jobs to the group’s administrative base at St Annes.

In addition, the group has been awarded a £10,000 Awards for All grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

That will be used to provide training for adults with a learning disability about friendships, relationships and sexual health.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Sue Sharples chairman and a founder of the U-Night group, which is still based at the Ormerod Trust headquarters in Headroomgate Road, St Annes.

“The group has grown rapidly over the years and there has been a lot of interest in taking the idea into other areas of Lancashire. This money will allow that to happen.

“The healthHeal grant will help us expand our work in the wider community and enable us to support and encourage people to form close friendships and relationships.

“Generally people with a learning disability have limited opportunities to meet their peers and to form lasting connections.

“Our current members have told us that this leads to them feeling lonely, isolated and depressed.

“We hope this will be one way of improving people’s physical and mental wellbeing, while opening up possibilities for the kind of relationships others take for granted.

“Over the next two years, the group will be working with partners from the voluntary and statutory sector to provide monthly nightclub events and activity groups all over Lancashire.

“We will also be launching a members only dating and friendship agency, to be called Meet’n’Match.

“The project also acknowledges the need to provide additional information and support to help the process of developing relationships, so we will also be offering lots of information, guidance, advice and specialist training, in addition to signposting to other agencies.

“We are very grateful to healthHeal for their financial support, as it offers a great opportunity for some of the most vulnerable local citizens to get together, with a view to finding anything from someone with a shared interest to true love.”

U-Night started 10 years ago as part of Ormerod’s activities before becoming branching out in its own right five years later and Sue added that several couples have formed lasting relationship over the years after first meeting at its regular functions.

Among them are John and Tina Dailey, who went on to marry and have acted together in many productions for the Ormerod Drama Group, as well as appearing in previous pantomimes at Lytham’s Lowther Pavilion.

Linda Hampton, formerly long-time producer with the Ormerod Drama Group, said: “U-Night is a wonderful ideal and I am delighted to hear about the money awards and the planned expansion.

“John and Tina are a lovely couple and their marriage shows what can result from it.”