Podcast Episode: Dates-n-Mates
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
LI - Liz Irvine
Dates 'n Mates is a friendship and dating agency for people with learning disabilities. Michael McEwan talked to PR and Marketing Manager, Liz Irvine, just before Valentines Day 2015.
MM For my latest episode of Iriss.fm, I interviewed PR and Marketing Manager for Dates 'n Mates, Liz Irvine.
MM First of all, Liz, can you tell us about Dates 'n Mates?
LI Yes, Dates n Mates has been going 8 years now, it's a friendship and dating agency that covers the whole of Scotland, and it's run by and it's for people with learning disabilities.
MM When did Dates 'n Mates launch?
LI 8 years ago by a collective of organisations called Altrum, and they came up with the idea because there was nothing in Scotland like it, and we are actually hosted now by C-Change, so C-Change kind of ... we are based in their offices in Ibrox in Glasgow, and they host us. And so we are a project of C-Change at the moment as well.
MM So how many members have you got?
LI At the moment we've got 142 members, with scope, that keeps going up year on year, obviously when we started we didn't have any, so ... in 8 years, 142 is good. And then we are just trying to grow our membership so we can get to more and more people.
MM Is Dates 'n Mates open to everyone all over Scotland or is it open to certain parts of Scotland?
LI Yes, well most of our events, we have about 6 to 8 events per month and most of those are based in Glasgow, although we do do some events over in Edinburgh as well, with the likes of LGBT and LGBT Youth. But we have ... I mean for example, we have got a huge group coming down from Orkney for our Valentines Ball, so we have people from Dumfries, Dundee that come down to our different events, but we are just opening an office in Aberdeen as well, so we are kind of covering different areas and hopefully people can travel around to the different things that we do.
MM Tell me what events you have got coming up, you mentioned a Valentines Ball, what other ones?
LI Yes, so the big Valentines Ball is this Friday and it's in Glasgow and it's for about 200 people. We do nightclub events called Late, which is Scotland's first fully inclusive nightclub, that's been going now for 3 years and we have just expanded that to 4 a year now, so the next one is on Thursday the 5th of March and that's at the Arches in Glasgow. We have included, this year, a Late n Cheesy we are calling it, which is going to be music of 80's, 90's, 70's, 60's, every sort of different genre that people just love to get up and dance. So we are doing a special night and that's in September. And then we have, it varies from Karaoke to bowling, to film groups that we have, to Art and Craft groups. Month on month it's just different events that we do to cater for everybody's needs.
MM You mentioned the club night, Late, now I have been to a few of them, well I say a few, I mean them all, I think I have just missed one of them. Why do you think it's a good idea to have a club night in an actual nightclub in Glasgow?
LI Because there wasn't anything like it, and what we want our members to experience, and the public as well, is to experience a nightclub that's in a safe environment, that you feel comfortable with dancing and you feel comfortable going into a nightclub that's there already and produces big nightclub events like Pressure and Colours, so we kind of wanted to use ... and the Arches are brilliant, I mean they have been really supportive of us as well. And so we wanted to use a nightclub that's already established, it's city centre based, it's right next to a train station, it's really good transport links and it's got all the equipment and everything there, like any other nightclub would have, so yes, that's why we ... it's growing and growing, I think we had 250 people come to the last one, so it's like a normal nightclub, you know, a proper event, so it's good. It's a good atmosphere, good energy, you would know anyway.
MM Yes, and its part of the campaign called Stay Up Late, can you tell me a bit more about that?
LI Yes, Stay Up Late was set up a few years ago now by a group called Stay Up Late down in England, again we sort of partnered up with them initially to launch LATE ourselves and they have been really supportive, they are great for ... they do like different big events down in England for club nights, comedy nights, lots of different things, so yes, we work closely with them still to put on LATE.
MM Yes, so what has the feedback been like from the people that's come along to the Arches?
LI Yes, brilliant, everyone has a really good time, people feel that they can just dance, they can let loose, be themselves, again we have the public that come along as well to attend, so that's why it's fully inclusive and the feedback is just really positive, they say it's really good energy, a really good atmosphere, the DJ's that we have ... we have, actually the one in March and the one last October, we had a guy called Rory Hoy, who came up all the way from Yorkshire to come and DJ, so we have DJ's that come all over. Obviously Capital FM, Gary Spence, he's one of our house DJ's, and he always plays with us, he's really brilliant actually, he's like one of our brand ambassadors, he is really positive and proactive of Dates n Mates, so I think they just really love having a good time and a good night out and a place where you can dance and you feel safe.
MM Do you get anybody coming into the Arches without a disability?
LI Yes, yes, we have quite a few students that come along, and we are always encouraging for people who just love a good night out to come and dance and come and try it out and see that it's all about being inclusive and going into the community and stopping social isolation and helping people experience things that they might not have even experienced before.
MM So, if people listening to this and they are interested in coming along to it, how would you promote that event and get more people along to it?
LI Well the Arches are brilliant, they support us, they do a lot of work online, so all of our social media and their social media, we push the next LATE event, it's always on our website as well, which is DatesnMates.co.uk, our Facebook page is really good, so maybe we promote it through advertising on Facebook, and we do a lot of mail outs as well, because people still like to get emails and they still like to get letters and invites, so we do a lot of mailshot stuff, and we promote it mainly through, you know we send out flyers per month to our members so they know what's coming up, but mainly our Facebook page is brilliant for things like that, so yes, that's how we promote it.
MM Going back to Dates 'n Mates then just as a whole, if people wanted to join Dates 'n Mates, how do they go about that?
LI Everything is on our website, so it just tells you how to join, you need to be over 18 years old and have a learning disability. Once you have gone onto our website and read all the details about what we do and where we are based and if you think about joining, you either phone us or email us and we can set up a little interview with you, and we just talk about what you are looking for, whether it's friendship, love, anything ... you know, whether you want to find somebody that has a shared activity like football or you just want to get out more, then we can help with that, so yes, just phone or email us and then we can take it from there.
MM So, at the top of that interview you were saying about you are setting up Dates 'n Mates in Aberdeen. I take it they are going to follow the same line as Dates 'n Mates in Glasgow, like having club nights and comedy nights and all that?
LI Yes, I mean I think they are going to start off small like we started off, and they will do their own events and we will work closely with them, it's still part of Dates 'n Mates, and obviously C-Change as well is helping to set that up. But they will have their own need and their own events up there, if they want to launch a LATE then we can look at doing that as well, but yes, it's just kind of getting people to experience things that they haven't experienced before.
MM I think we forgot to mention 2 Directors at Dates 'n Mates, John-Paul and Holly ...
JI There's actually 3 now.
MM 3 now?
JI Yes, yes, so Michael Benetton as well, he's just joined in the last 4 months, and so he is Director of fundraising. But John-Paul and Holly have been there since 8 years ago really, and yes, they are brilliant at being really supportive and they have done quite a few different STV interviews as well, so, yes, they are really good.
MM I take it it's a good atmosphere when you go to these events, it could be here in the Office, because I know Dates 'n Mates hold events in the Office or different events outside, as well, you know?
LI Yes, it's all about picking decent venues that have good wheelchair accessibility and not too pricey and they suit the needs of the event, so mainly, I mean I think we have had one or two events in the Office, but mainly we pick venues that are sort of city centre or easy for people to get to, that are completely out of their way that have good transport links, because again it's all about independence and getting people used to travel and used to going outside their house. And what we think is really great, as well as outside of our events, is it people can meet and make friends, you know, go to the pub, play pool together, we love it when people do that because it's just showing that there is a need for Dates 'n Mates and that people make friends with each other, and it's not necessarily about getting a boyfriend or girlfriend, it's actually making friends.
MM I take it you also see the confidence changing when they come into ... you know when they go to these events, kind of thing?
LI Uh huh, totally, I mean Michael Benetton, the other Director, is a really good example of that, I mean when he joined Dates 'n Mates, probably about 5 or 6 months ago, he had just moved up from England and he didn't know anyone and where he lives is quite isolated, so now he's a Director and he got the job, he now has to travel into work, so he has actually got a job and he has to travel and he comes to some of the events that we do as well, because obviously he's a member, so yes, I mean his confidence has just gone sky high, it's really good to see, and that's in the space of 6 months, so he's going to do really well. And it's really good when you meet people initially for their interview, that they come in and you can see what their interests are and you can actually in your head think, well we have got a member that's really into that as well, and we know that actually if you come to the next event then we will introduce you, and we have this scheme as well called Friendly Faces, so at different events we have our members that are Friendly Faces, that actually that's their job for the night, is to go and introduce people and say Michael, did you know this is Liz, Liz this is Michael, you know you 2 live near each other or you both like football, and that kind of sparks a conversation, so ... yes, it's all about helping people.
MM Yes, okay, well thanks for your time, Liz.
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