It's a good story, but it's also a great idea. Spreading the idea, however - helping people with learning difficulties to find love - is harder. The enterprise grew from one woman's desire for love. Haringey Association for Independent Living Hail. The offer is a mixture of parties to bring groups together and matched dates, discreetly chaperoned. When things are going well, clients are left to get on with their lives together.
But Stars in the Sky remains in the background, offering help and advice should things get rocky. Demand for the service has grown quickly and the project is now a popular success, with more than members across London. Naturally, there are risks - that their clients might be abusive or abused - but Stars in the Sky are proving they can be managed.
The agency is now looking to grow. There are franchises, backed with local authority funding, starting in Birmingham, Essex, Leeds and the Isle of Wight. However, each territory is hard won. While Stars is proving this work can be done safely, it still encounters worries about whether it should be done at all. I hope they go national.
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Stars in the Sky is helping to solve a real problem of social isolation. Its work is efficient - the agency's brief intervention can make a lasting difference. It is also inspiring. A Channel 4 film about Stars in the Sky.
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And whether it's a smile, a cuddle or sustained sexual relationship, it shows what we all know; that romance can transform lives. Stars in the Sky has become my secret shorthand in wonkish conversations about innovation. I had to decline as she was now in her late 60s and I didn't think I could help her. As the business grew in the Sixties, there were no shortage of applications.
There were no average types. Soon, Stella had converted a bedroom of the family home from which to run her office. Those Stella has helped over the years include television personalities - although Stella is resolutely declines to name them - and members of the aristocracy. It is the ordinary folk, however, of whom she is most proud, and whose thank-you letters she treasures. Like the one from the widow with three children who came to see her despairing that she would find love again. They hit it off immediately, moved in together, married, and had a baby of their own, which made nine.
They live in a raucous household just a few miles away.
Another lady came to see Stella after escaping her violent former husband. Unable to have children of her own, she believed herself to be no catch at all. Within months, the couple were married. I get a Christmas card from them every year, and postcards from their travels," Stella recalls. The couple were so enamoured of her matchmaking abilities that just a few years ago, they sent their nephew to see her. They were both single and they were both determined to marry farmers," she says.
So that wasn't a bad day's work, all told. Another lady requested a macho type with a beard, and got herself a bearded sea captain whom she now accompanies on his travels round the coast of Britain. But if the business was booming, Stella's professional success was to prove the final straw for her own unhappy marriage. He was so mortified he packed his bags and left that day.
The couple divorced - another huge social stigma for Stella and her agency. The Sixties might now be seen as the decade which started Britain swinging, but the day-to-day reality was a buttonedup society which frowned on any departure from the social norm. I used to have terrible trouble getting anyone to work for me. It was not the only obstacle she would come up against, as Stella found out when she took a young twenty-something unmarried mother onto her books.
I was told it would be unseemly. In the end the only paper that would co-operate was the local paper in Colchester, so I decided to move there. I was divorcing Ernest and a fresh start seemed in order. The advent in the late Sixties of the computer dating service Dateline, which matched people on its database according to their likes and dislikes, made the notion of professional matchmaking more accessible. For Stella, however, it is the personal-touch that she likes to think singles her agency out.
In 50 years of matchmaking, she has met every single one of her clients face to face.
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They always try to avoid giving you their home address and can't quite look you in the eye. In these frantic days of speed-dating, internet romancing and one-night stands, it is rather quaint to think of Stella shuffling through her paperwork, pondering which men and women might find happiness with one another. There is one great shift in behaviour which she singles out from her experience - the slow death of marriage. Today, she says, many of her clients are content to find romance rather than marriage.
People are perfectly happy just to have a relationship, and when that finishes they come to me again to fix up another one. There have been other changes, too. The last time I asked someone about their religion during their interview was a few years ago. The man replied that he was 'C of A'. So I kicked that question into touch. People's habits have changed beyond recognition, too. But while our tastes may have changed, the principles of professional match-making remain much the same. To be frank, these days there are too many young men, and too many old women.
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There just aren't the men out there for them, because the older men want the younger girls, unfortunately. The second, she says, is attitude. And if they still have it by the end of the interview, there's no point in allowing them to join. I never sign up people that I know I can't help," she says firmly. They come from all generations and backgrounds, from twenty and thirtysomethings with no time to look for love, to an octogenarian widower.
She tends to draw the upper age limit at 50 for women, due to a lack of demand after that age. I don't tell them they can't join, but I explain they probably won't have much luck, and then it is up to them. The men have their own crosses to bear, too. And bald-headed men have a hard time, too. Ultimately, it seems we still have a lot to learn about romance, with hope triumphing over experience more often than not.
Their attitude is that if they're paying for it then why shouldn't they be able to get exactly what they want? The answer, of course, is that life isn't quite like that.
As she knows all too well, of course: Stella herself has never remarried, despite a number of offers over the years. I was too busy sorting other people's lives out, I suppose," she says. She does not intend to give up now, either. And there's a certain amount of satisfaction from it all, at the end of the day. Her friend could have told her so all those years ago - not that the young Stella would have believed her then. Friday, Jan 18th 5-Day Forecast. It had been a heady romance, but once married, Stella regretted the union almost immediately. Over time, of course, the dating industry flourished, becoming more socially acceptable.