Jacqui Baker, founder at Select Connections & Select Events, tells her story.

Can you please tell us a little bit about you and what you do?

I am now 57 years old. I run Select Connections and Select Events. Select Connections is a specialist dating agency offering an exclusive matchmaking service for mature singles over 50 years old. Select Events specialises in running quirky, fun, and quality events for singles in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

My events are hosted by myself and they are not dating events but social events as many people in their 60s plus do not want the stigma of participating in a dating arena (even though they want to meet someone).

How did you start, from what age, and what made you decide to change direction and start?

On January 4, 2018, at the age of 53, I found myself single and a decision I really should have made years before. I was finally taking the plunge, embracing a new chapter in my life and following through with the decision.

Since then, I have literally not looked back – as well as my then 12-year-old youngest daughter (Lucy) and two cockapoos (Maisey & Lola).

Due to a wrong choice in this relationship, I suddenly found myself in rented accommodation from literally owning my own beautiful home outright. I am a firm believer that some things in life are better than bricks and mortar – health and strength have seen me through (though this has been questionable at times).

After a few months of being single and settling into my new way of life, I saw that friends and family didn’t necessarily understand what it was like to be happy but feel lonely.

With the benefits of some peer pressure, I decided to join an online dating platform. I found that this was not for me and played havoc with my confidence. I discovered that working my way through the fake profiles and scams was a task in itself.

I also struggled with the shallow judgement based on a few photos and a brief bio! I went on a few dates and eventually gave up due to either the person not looking like their picture, messaging someone who looked nice, and meeting them not feeling it.

I ultimately became that judgemental person myself and not giving people a chance to become attractive to me through their personality – something that used to happen before mobile phones became prevalent.

I decided that it was time for some ‘organic’ dating: I found little else available for someone like me, over 50 and looking for something other than meetup walks. For example, Toby Carvery, pub meetups and all the basic get-togethers that lacked variety, style or exclusivity: I work hard, likes the nice things in life, a good laugh and that genuine connection with others.

My local friends were all in relationships, and when they got together, they didn’t necessarily want to go out but preferred to get drunk dance around my kitchen.

I could not find any events that I could comfortably attend alone or any events that appealed to me to go along and be happy to mix with people for companionship and not be classed as ‘desperate to find a man’.

I worked as a business development manager for a university, but I was formerly involved in hospitality and, specifically events for many years. When I retired from hospitality operations, I trained staff in preparation to meet, greet and serve customers who were paying large amounts of money to entertain clients at large scale sporting events and concert arenas.

This was in my blood.

I decided to take a leap of faith. Following some market research, I started to run a few singles evenings in excellent venues. In February 2020 I ran a pilot event called ‘dinner with a difference’ in a beautiful location. This dinner delivered as promised an even number of male to female ratio – market research had shown that ladies ‘swamped’ all singles events and gents felt threatened by this.

The evening was a roaring success, new friendships were formed, and dates arranged. New dates were scheduled for further dinners, and interest was high (next few booked out) and then… the global pandemic.

At this stage, I was assigned to work from home in my full-time job. Many single people living alone contacted me to tell her how scared and lonely they were. Every week I would hear more stories about desperate loneliness, which ultimately left me feeling responsible for doing something to try and at least help a few people.

Every Friday night from March 2020 until June 2021, I ran free zoom get-togethers for my ever-growing bunch of singles. I also ran a Christmas Day zoom for people on their own, and the criteria were to be dressed up in your ‘going out’ gear and have a glass in your hand! So many people turned up, and many said it was a saving grace for them. The Friday nights grew and grew, and many new friendships have been formed as a result.

Without question, the global pandemic has forced all of us to take stock. Subsequent lockdowns have been particularly challenging, but for many singles, they have proven exceptionally tough.

I was working full time, managing my events and training to become an Accredited Matchmaker. I set up Select Connections in December 2020 after being accepted by the Association of British Introduction Agencies and building up a database of singles from Hampshire, Dorset, Surrey, London and Sussex.

I also work in collaboration with agencies across the country.

Earlier in the year, I took the plunge and went out independently, embarking on my entrepreneurial journey.

I cashed in a small pension and launched my savings into getting the business off the ground. Since then, I have not looked back.

My unrivalled passion, coupled with doing the best job in the world, has led the business to take off in a way that I could not ever have imagined. From 20 people in my network in November 2019 to over 1000 in November 2021 and growing every day.

We specialise in helping people who have come out of a long-term relationship, married for years, or recently bereaved and have found themselves single again. We work with them to get their confidence back and see their self-worth before starting on any dating journey.

What does your business do and where is your company based?

I run events for singles over 50 who want someone time quality and fun to attend without being stigmatised as an older person trying to find love. I also matchmake mature singles by matching common values, intelligence, humour and sense of purpose.

I am based in Southampton. My agency and events operate in Hampshire, London, Surrey, West Sussex and Dorset.

What’s been your life’s biggest lesson so far?

My biggest lesson and challenges is that the market I am working people are very set in their ways. When we met someone in our teens and twenties we did not question very much about them, we just gelled and got on with it. Now, mature singles question almost everything and are very judgemental and set in their ways.

I wish I had much more awareness of social media, content and marketing.

If you were to go back in time, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I have only recently become a very mature entrepreneur and I am very lucky as I love everything about the job I now do and love nothing more than matching two people who were so desperate for that last piece of the jigsaw in their very lonely lives.

I was never encouraged by anyone to try this at 55 years old but I was and am very driven. To be this driven and start at and with nothing it has required me to put my own life on hold and work every hour that I can possibly fit in.

How does your business run. What three tools make your business run better?

The key things to make my business run are social media, Trello and Canva. I found out about them when I was setting my and designing my website. There are many tools and services that I should be looking at but as there is only me running the business at the moment, time is of the essence.

What do you know now that you wished you had known before?

I wish I had much more awareness of social media, content and marketing.

What has been your greatest or proudest achievement or moment? 

The moment my website was put together and launched. 

What future life goals do you want to achieve and why? 

I am to drive on with events and matchmaking and driving awareness of the brand. In five years' time I wish to sell the brand. 

To finish our inspire questions…”We believe that sharing inspiring words can inspire others.” If there was one positive thing you would say to someone to inspire and empower them what would it be and why? 

Look for all your local government partnerships for support and guidance, join the FSB and Chamber of Commerce.