Happily: The dating project for adults with learning disabilities

Happily is a friendship and dating community project for adults with learning disabilities and autism, operating in West London. 

The organisation aims to bring together adults with autism and learning disabilities by arranging regular social events with their members.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, volunteers at Happily are working hard to organise face-to-face events and activities for their members this February. 

Helena Reed, the founder of Happily, said: “We are planning to have a big gathering with all our members soon and I’m sure there will be some Valentine’s cards exchanged.”

Reed, 33, used her first-hand experience of helping her younger sister with learning disabilities to find friendship and love to launch her passion project, Happily, in 2017. 

The community is based in West London, with volunteers spread around Wandsworth, Richmond and Twickenham.

Reed voluntarily runs the project part-time alongside a group of passionate and dedicated volunteers who engage with members and help to facilitate member events. 

Reed explained: “At Happily, we focus on doing things face-to-face.

“That could be anything from meeting up in the pub and hanging out on a Sunday afternoon, having a buffet lunch, going to the cinema, or just listening to an open mic night.

”It is really lovely to see people who haven’t had a relationship before or have been particularly isolated make that first step into building relationships and friendships, it has the most incredible impact on their mental health and confidence.” 

Happily members’ social event. Photo Credit: Happily CIC

Throughout the pandemic, the community was unable to meet up for face-to-face events.

The team instead organised remote activities for their members to ensure they could all continue to socialise with one another. 

These online activities included cartoon drawing workshops, short cooking classes and arts & crafts workshops. 

The name of the organisation is based on the phrase ‘Happily Ever After’, as Reed expressed that that is what she wants her members to find in the community.

However, Reed also wanted a name which would convey the building of a platonic relationship as well as a romantic one. 

Happily has over 30 members and, since joining the community, strong bonds of friendship have been made amongst members, with some going on holiday together, spending New Years Eve together and even introducing one another to each other’s families. 

Reed described how Happily works very closely not only with its members, but as a collaborative effort with family members and existing support circles also.

This is to ensure that members have all of the correct support around them. 

She said: “I have heard lovely stories of how parents have seen their son or daughter completely change and have that feeling that they belong and feel welcome in our community.

“It is really lovely to see our members being enabled by each others to be more independent and go out and have fun, as well as have the chance to experience things that they might not have done before.”

Sign up for membership with Happily here.

Feature Image from Happily CIC

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