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.It’s a must because I cannot always fight my vulnerability, as hard as I try – sometimes I get out of my depth with certain situations. “It took me two whole years to make friends at college, two years of feeling so alone, like I was completely by myself.“This is why Stars is so important – it can change all that for people like me.” After finally securing the funding from the NHS Hampshire Learning Disability Partnership Trust, Nicole swung into action and launches the agency on October 29, with a disco and a chance to sign up.
Project Details● Name: Luv2meet U● Aims and objectives: To support learning-disabled people to develop friendships and relationships, helping combat isolation and loneliness and improving health and well-being.● Staff: Project lead, project development worker, six support development workers, events and admin co-ordinator, two admin assistants (both have learning disabilities) and more than 50 volunteers.
“Long-term we are hoping that people will use personal budgets to buy into the service but that’s a massive transition.
We would also like there to be a service level agreement with local authorities so that we become part of their core funding structure.” The aim was always to turn the service into a community interest company (CIC) – a form of social enterprise – so that it had it own legal identity and was run as its own business.
Two years on, the project has been re-launched as its own company – Luv2meet U (L2MU) – and was nominated for the personalisation gong at this year’s Laing & Buisson independent specialist care awards, for its impact on users’ health and well-being.
L2MU runs several social events each month for members, and provides a matching service for people wanting to develop a relationship. “Relationships and friendships for people with learning disabilities are high on local authorities’ agendas so, when they heard about the project, they were interested,” says John Proctor, project lead and assistant regional director (Hft north region).