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We were 'undateables'- but now we're lovebirds
THEY were the ‘undateable’ singletons.
Joe Sweeney and Christina Corp are attractive, independent and fun-loving so should have been fending off admirers.
But ten stone overweight 27-year-old Joe, who suffers from a learning disability and anxiety, had zero confidence making dating terrifying.
And Christina, 26, simply can’t stand it when dates judge her for her disability and feel sorry for her.
Aged just 17 she suffered severe brain injuries in a horror road crash which claimed the life of her friend.
She spent 13 weeks in a coma and doctors told her parents FOUR times she had died.
But courageous Christina miraculously rebuilt her life.
Now thanks to a Hampshire dating charity for single people with disabilities these lonely hearts are a match made in heaven.
Christina, said: “I’m the girl who would never walk, never talk, all I’d do is breathe, but now I live in my own bungalow in Stubbington with my own horse, I’ve done three years at college and I volunteer.
“It’s ridiculous how many people say ‘poor you, are you okay, are you alright’, I say I’m FINE, I get fed up of being spoken to like a toddler, you feel so victimised.
“In nearly nine years since my accident, I haven’t found anyone.
“Stars in the Sky got me together with my love. I have never found anyone I’ve got such strong feelings for.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, we’ve got so much in common.”
Fareham-based Stars in the Sky is a small charity that helps disabled singletons find love by hosting ten social events a month including discos and advice workshops as well as chaperoning one-on-one dates at vetted venues.
Joe spent three years on the charity’s books and almost gave up hope after a series of unsuccessful dates – even though he shed ten stone shrinking from 22 stone.
But his luck turned thanks to Christina’s friends who urged her to join the dating agency after spotting it on hit Channel 4 show The Undateables.
Her first event was the charity’s Hallowe’en disco – and it was love at first sight.
Joe and Christina exchanged details and were chaperoned on a date to their local Harvester pub.
Christina, laughed: “It was funny. It was packed. We waited 40 minutes for a table. I thought I’ll be healthy, knowing Joe loves the gym, so I had chicken and new potatoes, but the potatoes came out like pebbles! I had to put them down and didn’t say anything because I was too nervous, and that’s when I knew – me being too nervous to talk isn’t a usual thing!”
From that moment the lovebirds have been inseparable.
They giggle sharing photos and memories of a family trip to Hayling Island, a birthday trip to Bath, and Joe beams with pride as he recalls Christina being crowned the brain injury charity Headway’s Achiever of the Year for her determination and work helping others.
Holding hands, Joe, said: “Christina means a lot to me, I’m really in love with her and she’s everything really.
She’s kind hearted, pretty, she cares about everybody, she never lets me down whatsoever, she never hurts my feelings, she’s better than anyone else.
“She is everything that I wish for in a girlfriend, and she respects who I am and I really love her.”
And is marriage on the cards? The pair exchange glances, hold hands tenderly and Christina, giggled: “My mates do ask me, “when shall we buy the hats?”
How Stars in the Sky are helping couples like Joe and Christina find love
FOR five years they have been the south’s answer to Cilla Black and Paddy McGuinness bringing love and laughter to the lives of disabled singletons in the area.
Inspired by the struggles of her autistic daughter Hollie, Nicole Hamerton and her sister-in-law Julie De-St-Aubin run the county’s only dating and friendship agency Stars in the Sky.
The small charity which is run from West Street in Fareham holds about ten social events a month ranging from discos to sex education workshops.
It has more than 100 people on its books aged between 18 to 66.
And since the hit TV show The Undateables, which highlights some of the complexities disabled people face when dating, the number of applications has soared.
Nicole said people have to be referred to the charitythrough a social worker, doctor or other professional and can have just Facebook access or full membership.
Each member is met for a face-toface meeting with Nicole, Julie or one of the volunteers.
As well as the social events, Stars in the Sky, which has so far been the catalyst for one marriage, chaperones singles on their first three dates.
The chaperones make sure clients get to the vetted venue safely and they stay there in case anything goes wrong- even giving the singles a password they can use in case they feel uncomfortable.
Nicole, said: “Many people take dating for granted.
“People with learning difficulties have just as much right as you or I to go out and have relationships including sexual relationships. Nobody seems to think that’s a priority but it’s about their emotional and social wellbeing otherwise they spend their entire lives isolated.
“We often see situations where he will go out and get chocolates and flowers, she will make sure her outfit matches her bag- they do it all the right way. It’s a very big event but sometimes someone could be in their 40s and it could be their first ever date.”
But Nicole, Julie and the volunteers, who are always at the end of the phone for personal problems, make sure they are there for support.
“If people behave inappropriately for example, they might not know they are doing it so rather than someone keep making that same mistake date after date, we educate them. We tell them this is where you went wrong.
Nicole, added: “It’s very rewarding to see couples blissfully happy.”
Desperate for funding
STARS in the Sky has issued a desperate plea for funding and company sponsors.
Nicole and Julie say they have dozens of forms landing in the office from disabled people looking for love in Southampton.
But without funding it is difficult to take on new members.
The pair have not taken a wage since July last year but they said whatever happens they will never stop the charity running.
Nicole said: “This year is the first year we’ve had to put our workshops on hold. We are desperate for funds to accept new members and at the moment we are inundated due to the programme The Undateables.
“We are desperate for support.”
Christina, who met Joe through the charity, issued an emotional plea.
She said: “I couldn’t bare it if Stars in the Sky had to go. I’ve seen how happy it’s made me and Joe. I’ve seen how strong it can be. There have been several relationships that have occurred from it. But more importantly than a dating agency it’s a way for disabled people to get free. It’s a way disabled people can explore the dating world because I know fully well how hard it is having a disability and trying to get a date.”
To get in contact with Nicole and Julie go to starsintheskyhants.co.uk or call 01329 826423.