Friendship and dating agency gets £114,000 funding boost

Safe Soulmates founders Christine O’Neil and Vicky Baddeley

Safe Soulmates, which was set up in December 2018 by Stretham friends Christine O’Neil and Vicky Baddeley, has received a £114,000 funding grant from the National Lottery's Reaching Communities fund. - Credit: SAFE SOULMATES

A dating agency for Cambridgeshire people who have autism and learning difficulties has received a £114,000 funding grant from the National Lottery's Reaching Communities fund. 

Safe Soulmates was set up in December 2018 by Stretham friends Christine O’Neil and Vicky Baddeley.

It was launched “in response to the issue of loneliness and social isolation” in the area. 

Christine, who has a background in the learning disability sector, said at the time: “I realised that there was nothing in this area to help people who have some kind of additional need.”

The pair decided to launch the love searching agency after they received a large £10,000 funding boost from the National Lottery’s Awards for All scheme.

Since then it has grown to have 120 members and its steering group, who are Soulmates as well as volunteers.

Safe Soulmates committee members Ollie and Lizzie

Safe Soulmates granted £114,000 to help beat loneliness: Ollie and Lizzie, steering group committee members from Safe Soulmates, announcing the new funding on Zoom. - Credit: VICKY BADDELEY

Ollie, who is a member of the Safe Soulmates steering group, said: " 'I have been a member of Safe Soulmates for about a year and a half.

"During that time I've met lots of nice people, made new friends and I am part of the steering group as well.

"I'm also a long distance charity cyclist and raised money for lots of different charities including Safe Soulmates to help people with learning disabilities and autism like me to find friendships, love and romance.

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"I'm a pianist and keyboard player which means I like to make music and cheer people up when they are feeling down.

"Plus it can help me to cast my worries aside and make me feel better again."

Lizzie, who is also on the steering group, said: "I joined Safe Soulmates two years ago when it first began and I have noticed a positive change in my confidence.

"I really enjoy coming to the quiz nights and meeting new people. It’s really helped me to come out of my shell."

They run socials, currently on Zoom, and will run small socially distanced meet-ups when it is safe.

Some of the socials currently running on Zoom are: cinema club, quiz night, Freya’s Makaton hour, ladies meet up, men’s mental health group, and a gaming night.

The organisation now has support from East Cambs District Council and works closely with Dhiverse, a Cambridge-based charity that provides workshops around online safety and relationships.

The cost of joining is £120 per year.