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But a dating service for young people with special needs is going from strength to strength, and has even led to wedding bells.

Mates ’n Dates was launched in October 2007 to provide an introduction service for the learning disabled, and now has 300 regular users across Oxfordshire.

Run by the Guideposts Trust, based in Witney, it is the only service of its kind in the county and recruits members, aged 18-80, through day centres, charities and word of mouth.

Co-ordinator Hannah Wolstenholme, 32, right, said: “Mates ’n Dates organises social events where people can meet and make new friends and perhaps arrange dates afterwards using one of the charity’s volunteer ‘chaperones’.

“Being able to access things like restaurants, the cinema and bowling is something most of us take for granted.

“But while our members want to be able to hang out with their new friends, watch a film, or enjoy a meal together, most can’t drive and therefore have to rely on a parent.

And you would not usually take your parent on a date.

“So Mates ’n Dates can also help people to organise their own free time, get there safely – maybe get help with reading menus, or ordering and buying drinks – and then just enjoy their date knowing a chaperone is sitting close-by letting the date progress normally and completely safely.” Mates ’n Dates runs speed dating at pubs around the county and also has a growing number of singles groups, including those in Oxford, Bicester and Wallingford.

Miss Wolstenholme said: “We have chaperoned 12 dates so far this year, and many have led to further dates and even relationships.

“There are seven couples we know of who have found love and many more who have made great friends.” Anthony Holroyd, 31, from Banbury, has been a Mates ’n Dates member for three years.

He said: “Mates ’n Dates has helped me to meet so many people and have such a lot of fun.

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