In March, campaigns assistant Ciara Evans went to the BILD (the British Institute of Learning Disabilities) ‘Undateable? Not me!’ conference in Oxford.
The conference gave lots of advice and information to people with a learning disability, their families and carers on dating and relationships, sex and the right to choose.
Lots of people, including Ciara, shared their relationship stories.
Ciara met up with BILD employee and romantic Kate who featured in the channel 4 programme The Undateables and went to the Run For Your Wife film premier on behalf of Mencap.
Over lunch, Ciara asked Kate a few questions about her experiences of relationships and dating.
Ciara: How important is it to you to have a relationship?
Kate: For me, it is very important to have a relationship. Nine years ago, I was in a perfect relationship and then we split up. I have more to give to another relationship. I wanted to have a new relationship and to go slow. It meant so much to have another relationship. I would like to carry on and make it successful with some one else.
Ciara: Do you think that everyone with a learning disability will be able to have a relationship and get married?
Kate: I’d like to think that everybody can. Anyone can find love. With the right support, obviously, people with a learning disability can find love and get married. That would be wonderful for them. They need a basic understanding of what a relationship is and what it involves, and then if they have the extra support it will help them to fulfil their lives.
Ciara: Do you think that people with a learning disability should get support to meet someone?
Kate: They should get support. It is hard to do it on your own. When they get their needs met with the right help and support, it will be wonderful. Once they have the support, then they can be encouraged to fulfil their relationship dreams.
Ciara: When you signed up to the dating agency, was it easy to do?
Kate: Signing up to the dating agency was easy to do. The forms were easy to understand and to fill in. They were easy read forms. At first, I was a bit apprehensive and nervous about how I would find a relationship, but once I joined, I made friends really quickly and then I found the guy of my dreams. I would recommend it for people to look for a relationship.
A lady came and talked to me about it earlier today. She wanted to tell her story. She was really nervous about the whole thing. The lady had autism. I said there is going to be another series of Undateables next year. She wants to apply, so I am going to give her the contact details to get involved. So I am up for getting people to go for it!
Ciara: Would you tell other people with a learning disability about dating agencies?
Kate: I would recommend Stars in the Skies. You have to be careful with the dating agencies on the internet and who you meet, as it could be dangerous. So I would recommend someone well known.
I know when I have tried non-specialist dating agencies in the past, I was wrong from them. Put in my place, sort of thing. I was too honest and they turned their back on me.
Ciara: How important is romance to you?
Kate: To me, romance is very important. It all starts with romance, really, I think. I see romance as a heart trapped in a box. When it’s hiding away, you are not so sure if you will ever find love again. It’s all delicate. You just don’t want to touch it. But when it opens up, it’s beautiful and it is a massive feeling of being in a relationship, and it makes it all worthwhile.