Starting a Peer Support and Dating Club
for Physically, Sensory and Socially
by Dr Tuppy Owens
I started the Outsiders way back in 1979 and it was the only dating club for disabled people – in the world I think! I had the help of Nigel, a colleague who had lost his sight. He handled the phone calls. We didn’t really think it would work, but here we are, almost 4 decades on, still successful. We had over a hundred people at the lunches (in Pizza on the Park, owned by a lover of mine) with members coming from all over the country, and even Paris! Disabled people don’t seem so adventurous these days, it seems.
But the essence of what we do remains the same. We accept disabled people as sexual. We vet all our members in advance to ensure no predatory people enter. Our online Facebook Clubhouse allows group chats which are excellent examples of peer support, and local ones allow members to decide how to meet each other – perhaps on special days like Christmas Day when they feel lonely. Our monthly lunches are always run by a responsible person. We have a helpline, which is also online, run by disabled volunteers.
The disabled volunteers I work with are amazing and I allow them autonomy (they work when they are well enough and use their own discretion) as well as offering support. We now have lunches around the UK and hope to have more soon. We have moved from having an office and using paper to being online..
Our lunches give our members the chance to meet each other face-to-face and for us to encourage shy and anxious members. The events are relaxed, welcoming and fun – always on a Saturday afternoon and in lovely places. We make it as easy as possible for newcomers, as nobody likes entering a room full of strangers!
Outsiders puts on an annual Jamboree which is designed for fun and provides opportunities for interaction – we have a tactile fashion show, which blind people can also enjoy with some members modelling the outfits., ‘snail racing’, performances and lovely food.
If you want to start local lunches for disabled people, they can join our Clubhouse once vetted and you can work with them to offer support to one another and enjoy meeting each other at a women-friendly gastropub / eating house. We have details of how to run a lunch on http://www.outsiders.org.uk/outsidersclub/runninggroup/
You can look at our application form (press ‘Join’ on the menu bar) to see what we expect of members.
I have to say that I have really enjoyed every lunch, over the years. I usually run workshops which help our members with dating and socialising. A good example of this is the body image workshops. We take it in turns to tell everyone what we think is our most attractive feature, and what we think puts people off us. Then everyone gives feedback (which is usually quite different to the way they see themselves). They find this really useful. If you would like guidance on how to run a local group, go to http://www.outsiders.org.uk/outsidersclub/about-us/ page two.
We don’t accept disabled people who cannot handle their own affairs, because we don’t have the staff to deal with this. It excludes most learning disabled and brain injured people. Neither do we accept those only want non-disabled partners – they have to learn to accept their own impairments and then they can accept others. Ours is a club of acceptance.
To learn more, contact me Tuppy@Outsiders.org.uk