Relationships, and sex, matter

More and more people are talking about how best to support people with learning disabilities to find and maintain loving relationships.

But many people can’t wait for the wheels of change to creak into gear; several of this year’s Leaders’ List winners have taken matters into their own hands and set up their own dating agencies. Following difficult personal experiences, Stephen is one such.

In fact, Stephen has made a significant contribution to raising awareness of the importance of intimate and personal relationships in the lives of people with a learning disability.

  • He has been speaking up about this for over twenty years and has been very persistent in his message that everyone has a right to a relationship and should get the support they need to find and maintain love.
  • He was a main contributor to the Lancashire campaign to get CQC to write guidance on Relationships and Sexuality for providers, and acted as a consultant in the development of this document.
  • As a Director of the U-Night Group, Stephen was also instrumental in the development of ‘Y be Shy’- a training programme for staff and people who use services and continues to be a co-trainer.

Stephen was one of the first people to join Supported Loving, a national network set up to bring together people with an interest in learning disability and relationships. He is a regular contributor who voices his opinions on the Lancashire and national situation who always manages to make people laugh!

The driving force for Stephen is the fact that he experienced relationships adversity in the 1970’s when he was still at the day service that he was to attend for 25 years. He developed a relationship which resulted in marriage without support being available. This ended in divorce, followed by a long period of loneliness.

Sometimes Stephen’s search for closeness led him to be vulnerable and to be the subject of safeguarding concerns. He says that during this time all he wanted was a girlfriend and he recognised that many of his friends felt the same.

His difficult experiences have taught Stephen that people need appropriate support and training in order to have safe and healthy relationships.

So he kept saying that we need a dating and friendship agency in Lancashire. 5 years ago he helped write a successful Lottery bid. Thus ‘Meet-n-match’ was born.

The good news is that Meet-n-Match was able to find Stephen a partner who he has been with for the last 3 years!

Dorothy Owen, fellow Director of the U-Night Group commented:

“Sex and Relationships are really hard subjects for people to talk about.

“It can be embarrassing and challenging, but Stephen has managed to overcome his shyness about this, because he strongly believes in the need to overcome the barriers experienced by people with a learning disability to relationships. He is a tremendous role model and inspiration for others. He has taught me more about compassion than any training course or academic books ever could.”

How does it feel to be a Learning Disability and Autism Leader?

“I was so shocked to hear that I was on the Leaders’ List. I feel happy and proud that other people think I’m doing a good job. I’ve been sticking up for people like me to have relationships for a long time. Thank you for taking me seriously.”

“I am very impressed that this candidate identified a need for relationship support for people with a learning disability and, having done so, did something about it by helping to write a funding proposal and campaigning for guidance from the CQC.” – Leaders’ List 2019 Judge