Love blossoms thanks to social club for people with learning disabilities
Published by Sarah Thomas for Reach the People Charity in Housing and also in Communities
The happy couple Wesley Davies and Kate Linley.
People with learning disabilities who are in search of love, friendship or just a fun-filled social life are making the most of a project run by a Midlands-based charity.
Trident Reach the People Charity, which provides accommodation and support services for vulnerable people, runs the Birmingham-based Reach for the Stars service and organises a wide range of social events throughout the year for its 330 members.
It has proved so popular that it is looking to increase its range of activities and expand the service to other areas, starting with Dudley, and into rural areas where people can become particularly isolated.
Sweethearts Wesley Davies and Kate Linley met at one of the services “single and mingle” nights, where love blossomed, and they have since got engaged.
Wesley, aged 34, from Rugeley, and Kate, aged 30, from Erdington, will shortly be moving into their own flat together in Sutton Coldfield – and are looking forward to planning their wedding.
Wesley, who DJs at his local pub and Reach for the Stars events, said: “Before we met, Kate had already seen me DJing on YouTube. A friend at Reach had sent her a link to the video and, after she saw it, she told our friend ‘He’s the one for me’.
“We met at a Reach for the Stars night and hit it off straight away. It just developed from there and I proposed the following year with an amethyst ring, which is Kate’s birthstone.
“We are looking forward to moving in together but we really want to get married as soon as possible because it is meant to be lucky to marry in a leap year.”
Reach for the Stars, based in Balsall Heath, started life as a dating group for people with learning disabilities, set up along the lines of a similar scheme in London.
Members staged a protest when it was threatened with closure due to funding cuts and then Trident Reach stepped in to save it. Although it has become more of a general social club, it still has “single and mingle” nights.
It organises almost 200 activities a year, from discos to cinema visits, seaside visits to men’s curry nights.
Reach for the Stars facilitator Laura Jones said: “The service has proved so popular that we are looking to expand our membership and branch out into other areas.
“I am currently working to get the project off the ground in Dudley, looking at different venues and activities, as well as contacting social services and care and support providers there to see how many people would be interested.
“Eventually, the idea is to have groups all over the country, including rural areas where people can become very socially isolated.”
Raymond Broadhead, aged 61, from Harborne, is blind and needs 24-hour care but he has discovered a new lease of life since joining Reach for the Stars.
He said: “It is great having the opportunity to go out, do different things, meet people and make new friends.
“I am still looking for love but quite a few people have met the partner of their dreams through Reach for the Stars.
“I love going to clubs and discos. I like dancing and, once I get started, they can’t get me off the dance floor.
“Joining Reach for the Stars really has changed my life and I am now a volunteer, helping to get more people involved and recruit new members.”
Michael Betts, aged 46, from Acocks Green, also has learning disabilities and was helped by Trident Reach after suffering mental health problems three years ago.
He went on to become involved with Reach for the Stars and is now a volunteer, helping to attract new members.
Michael, who dresses as a cowboy in tribute to his love of country and western music, is a keen line dancer and has become a familiar figure at social activities and recruitment events.
He said: “It has turned my life around. I love bringing people together and helping people with learning disabilities like me.
“I did a social inclusion course which allowed me to spread my wings. I’ve got my own home now and I’m hoping to get a full-time job in social inclusion.
“I know, through my own experience, that there are a lot of people out there with learning disabilities who haven’t learned how to communicate or built up their self-confidence and self-esteem to deal with different people and situations.
“It is not just about providing social activities. By bringing people together like this from different cultures and backgrounds, it gives them the experience to cope with people out in the community and develops their social skills.”
Trident Reach the People Charity provides housing, care and support services for vulnerable people, helping them to live independently and reach their potential through the charity’s range of services and work within the community.
For more information about Trident Reach or to find out how you can support its work, contact 0121 226 5800.