ove is in the air for a Yorkshire couple who got engaged last year after being matched by a friendship and dating agency for adults with learning disabilities and autism.
Anna and Mark’s story started when they were introduced through the Luv2meetU dating service, which is run by national learning disability charity, Hft.
Luv2meetU is a friendship and dating agency for people with a learning disability or autism aged 18 and over. They support people to make friends, share interests and develop relationships.
Anna, 28, from South Yorkshire and Mark, 32, from West Yorkshire had both been members of Luv2meetU since 2019, when it was suggested they might be a good match.
A first date was arranged for November, and Luv2meetU staff worked with the couple to share some advice and help to boost their confidence ahead of the event.
The pair hit it off straightaway, with both Anna and Mark agreeing that it was love at first sight.
Chatting for more than two and a half hours at a pizza restaurant, there was an immediate spark, with Mark sharing stories from his job as a gardener, and Anna discussing courses she attended at a local enterprise.
The pair were keen to see each other again and arranged another date as soon as possible, with a Luv2meetU chaperone on hand again to provide support.
Despite the new couple living on opposite sides of Yorkshire, their parents were happy to provide transport to ensure Anna and Mark were able to meet up regularly over the following months. Walks, restaurant visits and even a trip to a cat café helped to cement their bond before the pandemic began and the couple were no longer able to see each other face to face.
While their months apart were difficult, Anna and Mark spent the year’s first lockdown in constant communication, often video calling as soon as they woke up and several more times throughout the day.
When restrictions were lifted, they were delighted to be reunited and took any opportunity they could to spend time together.
It was during this time, in October, that Mark decided to pop the question at Sandsend Beach, near Whitby.
With both families at their side, Mark got down on one knee and was thrilled when Anna said yes.
The couple are now planning their wedding and are looking forward to the future, when they hope to tie the knot and move in together.
“I was so happy when Luv2meetU arranged a date to meet Anna, we got on straight away,” says Mark.
“We saw each other as much as we could and soon fell in love. I proposed on the beach, and although it was a wet and windy day, it was the best day of my life.”
Luv2meetU was originally set up as a pilot in the Leeds and Wakefield area in 2007.
The team now supports around 350 to 400 people with services in areas including Bradford, Bristol, Sheffield, and Leeds, and has enabled many more to make friends and forge relationships.
The service’s Leeds branch has nearly 50 members and, during the pandemic, has transformed its packed programme of outings into a virtual calendar that makes the most of video calling services.
Activities on offer are driven by suggestions from members, with Luv2meetU staff on hand to guide conversation.
Events on offer span from mindfulness sessions to quizzes and karaoke.
Karen England, Hft’s Luv2meetU manager, said: “We were absolutely thrilled for Anna and Mark when we heard their happy news.
“Luv2meetU is all about bringing people together, whether that’s by supporting people to find a great new circle of friends, or perhaps by helping them to meet that special someone.
“Like Anna and Mark, many people with learning disabilities have struggled with not being able to spend time with their loved ones this year. At Luv2meetU, we want to ensure that at a time when people might be feeling isolated, we’re able to keep them connected through our virtual calendar of events. We’re always keen to hear from more people with learning disabilities and autism who want to join us and would encourage anyone who might be interested to get in touch with their local branch.”
Members are matched based on their interests, personality and age through our database. If both members want to meet up then we set up a date based on what they would like to do – all first dates are chaperoned by a trained member of staff or volunteer. Sometimes members meet at Luv2meetU events and will ask us to arrange a date for them that way too. Luv2meetU regularly run ‘singles mingles’ events and also speed dating as requested. Luv2meetU make follow up calls after each first date to see how things have gone.
Mark’s mum said: “Mark was desperate to meet people and have his own life. There was just nothing in his local area and it wasn’t easy so Luv2meetU has been brilliant for him. Meeting Anna was fantastic and it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Luv2meetU. He phoned lots of times for advice and is usually very quiet, but he didn’t stop chatting on the date – we had to walk around the block many times before they were ready to leave! Now, they video call all the time and it’s like they’re living together.”