Dating on your doorstep

Dating on your doorstep

WE are most definitely in an age of supporting anything that is local to us. Whether we are talking about local shops, businesses or service providers, the overriding mantra is BUY LOCAL, and the concept makes perfect sense. Why travel when you have everything you need conveniently based right on your doorstep, and the products you need are tailored exactly to what you want.

Using local businesses makes us feel good because we know we are supporting our local economy AND at the same time we enjoy feeling connected to our community as there is great sense of ownership and responsibility.

There is an increasing trend for doing things and buying things near to where we live. We relish the familiarity and security that buying local gives us. Buying local makes us feel GOOD. And it is easy.

We are positively embracing buying our food locally, so why not apply the same theory to online dating?



After all, dating sites are service providers, the taboos of yesteryear are now a distant memory, and they have to be based somewhere. More often than not, trying to find a real person as opposed to a multi billion dollar business behind a dating site is pretty impossible. is based in rural Oxfordshire and is owned by two entrepreneurs who both live locally and have strong local connections. The team that supports the business is also made up of local business owners with backgrounds in web design and development, PR and communications and, of course, accounting and business services.

The whole project is deeply embedded into the local Oxfordshire community and provides a specific dating service for people in that area. With the city of Oxford and its dreaming spires right on the doorstep, there are plenty of amazing venues for dates and a wide selection of local single people who want to spend time with each other, rather than embarking on arduous journeys in the hope that this might be ‘the one.’

Members can be secure in the knowledge that the site they have chosen to use (which is, incidentally, currently free) is owned and controlled by real people who live in a village probably not that far from them. Add to that the fact that at least two of the people involved in developing the business have racked up over 100 Internet dates between them, and most definitely know what they are taking about, and any qualms you may have had about joining a dating site should quickly disappear. The business is ethical,  transparent and has a website jammed with free dating tips and advice.

While the big boys of Internet dating such as Match, Pof, OK Cupid and others remain undoubtedly the market leaders, smaller sites like are championing the cause for “buying” local and using local services.

Clare Beaney, is one half of the business partnership. She said: “I have had a lot of internet dates, and I didn’t want to travel hundreds of miles to meet someone. The big sites do have hundreds of thousands of members which is great, but do we really have time to wade through a large percentage of ‘unsuitables’ who live too far away? was created to provide an open and honest approach to Internet dating and to offer single people an enhanced online dating experience. We have taken this one step further by limiting our members to an area local to Oxford and Oxfordshire. We accept this this could be a business risk, but conversely also feel it makes us unique in what is a very overcrowded market.”

With many newbie online daters feeling overwhelmed by the well established dating sites, and horror stories regularly appearing in the media about online dating as a whole, is friendly, small and has a nurturing, community feel to it. The idea is to link up local people with similar interests and see if Cupid takes over.

Anona Hessler, the other partner in the business added: “We set out to provide an honest Internet dating experience, and that is what we will continue to do. Oxford and Oxfordshire has a wealth of interesting single people all looking for love, and we aim to bring them together by making matching as easy as possible. Why waste time connecting with people who are half a day away, when you can spend that precious time getting to know someone who almost lives on your doorstep?”

The art of being a step mother (originally published in Red magazine -May 2015)



This was commissioned by RED magazine and appeared in the May 2015 issue.

As my new boyfriend Colin ambled towards the corner shop, I wound down the car window and called after him, ‘Don’t forget the milk, babe.’ He turned back with a warm smile, acknowledging my request. Sitting back contentedly, my thoughts drifted to our romantic supper for two – yet they were quickly interrupted, when a tiny, but perfectly articulate, voice rising up from the back of the car.
‘He is not your babe, he is my daddy!’
I turned to look at the angelic three year-old – Colin’s daughter, Charlotte – her little face screwed into a scowl and I’m ashamed to say, not for the first time, the anger rose inside me. I found myself glaring down at this small being, who was staking her emotional claim over my partner with such force. She glared back at me, completely holding her own. She was just a toddler and I knew, as the adult, I should let it slide, as I usually did, but on this occasion my anger at her was palpable.
When Colin returned with the groceries, and I told him what had happened, he thought it was hilarious. But I found the whole situation intimidating, infuriating and frankly upsetting. What was I supposed to do with that comment? How could nine words emitted from the mouth of such a small human being carry such weight? And why couldn’t I count on the support of my boyfriend in dealing with his angry little girl. She’d pelted me with an emotional curve ball – but it was just one of many that I endured when I first became a step-parent.
I’m happy to say that now, Colin (who has since become my husband) and I have a lot better relationship with each other’s children – we have six of them between us, including Charlotte. We’re more tolerant and hopefully more understanding. Yes there are still incidents aplenty, but they are quickly resolved and carry less emotional weight. Nevertheless, I still regard these early days as a baptism by fire. Step-parenting is a hard-to-navigate role, and with over half a million step-families in the UK, and a divorce rate at 42 per cent (and counting), it’s a position that many of us find ourselves in. Becoming part of someone else’s ‘unit’ requires an often lengthy period of adjustment – for everyone. And while it took a few years for Charlotte and I to truly find a balance that worked, for many step-parents a feeling of equilibrium and happiness never happens.
I think a lot of it comes from guilt. It’s an emotion that most mothers seem to battle with anyway, but it only intensifies during a break up. When I broke up with my sons’ father, after 13 years together,(he had an affair) I was painfully aware that I was also destroying the secure environment they had come to rely on. Making them feel loved and safe was a priority for me, and we quickly fell into a routine that suited all of us. The boys, who were four months and three years at the time, still lived with me in our family home, and saw their dad at weekends.
Things remained like this for seven years, until I met Colin, who had also separated from his partner. He’d been invited by a mutual friend to join us for supper and I instantly fell for his sense of humour and his kind, gentle nature. Yet I knew creating a home for my boys and his four children would nevertheless prove a challenge.
I was 38 when we met, and Colin’s older kids from his first marriage were already 18, 20 and 21. He had separated from three year-old Charlotte’s mother, before she was born. At first I assumed our relationship would start with lots of indulgent dinners and lazy mornings in bed – particularly when my boys, who still lived with me, were with their dad. I felt like we’d both already done our fair share of baby duty in our lives, so we didn’t need to worry about that anymore, but of course, we were propelled back there every time Charlotte came to visit.
She instantly took priority over the other kids because she simply needed more attention than they did. This may have been easier to swallow if Colin and I at least had similar parenting styles. But Charlotte’s mother had instigated a strict routine – one that she shared with me via a long list of ‘dos and don’ts’ and that my husband was fearful of deviating from – so the weekends we cared for her, everyone had to adhere to a toddler’s timetable. I also found myself tied to another woman’s parenting style – which was completely at odds with my own, far more relaxed, approach. And I realised I was expected to cut short everyone else’s fun to maintain Charlotte’s schedule too.
I remember one occasion when, on a joint family outing, my youngest son became upset because he had been promised a trip to a museum but we had run out of time. Colin’s constant clock watching had already driven me to distraction, but now I had to disregard my own child’s feelings for the sake of Colin’s offspring. It was too hard to ignore my son’s tears, too upsetting that Colin seemed immune to them and too frustrating that yet another ‘happy’ family trip had descended into an argument.
When I’d been a single mother, I’d always assumed embarking on a relationship with a man who had no children would be catastrophic, as how could he ever understand what it was like. Instead, I’d found a partner with kids, and constantly felt undermined and unable to vocalise what I really thought for fear of causing a row.
My relationship with Colin’s three older kids was equally as challenging. At times it felt like we were developing great friendships, but then something would happen and we’d be back to square one again.
Weeks after the museum incident, Colin’s eldest son spotted a bottle of champagne in our fridge and reported this back to his mother. As she and Colin were in the throes of financial negotiations, this information became ammunition. Times were hard for all of us back then and the champagne was a rare treat – purchased by me – but of course, his son didn’t realise this and viewed it as misplaced priorities. I could understand his loyalty to his mum, but I was devastated too. I’d recently helped him to raise a deposit for his first home, and acted as guarantor, but at the first opportunity to unfoot me, he did. In retrospect I realise he was dealing with his emotions by lashing out. I was just the easiest target.
Poor Colin spent a lot of time trying to keep everyone happy, but for me, the fact that he didn’t instantly spring to my defence was yet more evidence that the lines were drawn. It was very much him and his children, and me and mine. Blending had failed. We were not ready to be step parents – being parents was hard enough.
So we went our separate ways, for three years. We remained friends during this time and out of the blue, met for a coffee in 2011. We both had dates lined up for that evening, but decided to ditch them and go out for supper instead. Guess what? We’ve never looked back.
A few weeks later we broke the news of our reconciliation to our children and they were all delighted. It seemed that time not only helped us to heal, but gave us a shared history, something to help the kids feel unified. The first time Charlotte, then six, came back to visit us, she cried because she was worried she would never see us all again. It made me realise that despite what had happened before, my children and I were important to her.
Almost a decade on, I’m able to say that I now love being a stepmother to Colin’s four amazing children. Each one of them has brought a positive, new dimension to my life, and luckily, their mums have both helped to make the situation more harmonious. Their acceptance – and support – of our relationship means that they feel like allies. And actually, they always have done. Even when things were tough for Colin and I, his ex partners never weighed in and made things worse. They were sensitive to the fact that we might need time alone without the kids and they also seemed confident about leaving their children in my care, which made me feel accepted by them too. they seemed just as happy as the kids about our reconciliation.
So how did we do things differently second time around? By being more supportive to one another as a couple and clearer about the roles we’d take on with each other’s children.
In 2013 we got married and our children were ushers, flower girls and bridesmaids. As I stood back and looked at our big, crazy family, I was proud of what we’d become. Now we are more honest, settled and confident. Am I still sometimes seen as the wicked step mother? You would have to ask the kids (I’m still working on being slightly less opinionated!), but so far this fairy tale has a happy ending.

Cupid’s Christmas Countdown

Cupid’s Christmas Countdown!

So my festive single chums, here we go! The countdown to Christmas has officially begun and as we hurtle through Advent at an astonishing speed now is the time to take stock of our internet dating adventures.

Are you ready for Christmas? Are the fairy lights tangled and the tinsel looking a bit shabby? Have you made your own dating Advent calendar with a date for every day up until Christmas Eve?

It’s a funny old time for a lot of people and as someone who was very single for many, many Christmases I know, and remember well, how difficult this time of year can be when you are on your own. Try as I might to always put a brave face on things, I can honestly say that despite putting on my brightest lipstick, my sparkliest earrings, my highest heels and my biggest smile, Christmas on your own is not always that great.




Being surrounded by couples, whether they are family or friends, can be tricky. I think the worst time for me was Christmas Eve when my ex husband would come and take our children off for the day and I was left alone in the house. I blame this entirely for the fact, that for at least ten years, I maxed my credit card at BIcester Village!

So, to make sure that all of you lovely single people out there have a blast this Christmas, here are my top tips to inspire you and ensure you have the best time you can during the party season.

Invitations have already started arriving, and well meaning friends will probably invite you to spend Christmas with them. However, kind as though these gestures are, you must do what you want to do. Don’t feel pressured into accepting an invite to tag along to someone else’s Christmas Day if you don’t want to. On the other hand, sitting at home with a giant tin of Celebrations and the Breaking Bad box set probably won’t help either, so find a happy medium.

Dating at Christmas can be fraught and filled with hopelessly high expectations so be careful and look after yourself properly. Getting silly romantic ideas in your head about ice skating at Somerset House and sipping mulled wine in Bavaria are all very well, but if the reality is getting crushed in the pre Christmas sales and putting up with a mediocre lunch in your local Brewer’s Fayre then you will be very disappointed. Be sensible and remember that a date is still just a date-even at Christmas and there are no obligations for it to become your happy ever after. After all, you are not buying a puppy (because they are NOT just for Christmas obviously)

Singleness comes in different packages, and at Christmas this becomes painfully obvious. I am blessed with two children so although I was very much a single parent, I was always naturally very busy with nativities, carol services, school events and so on. By Christmas Day I was usually exhausted and just wanted to drink my bodyweight in Baileys.
However, for people who do not have children, a single Christmas is a very different affair. Once the potentially hideous office party is out of the way and you leave work for the holidays, what happens next? Yes there are probably various invites flying around, and perhaps you have a series of dates lined up for the whole of Christmas-if you have then well done! If not, and you seriously dread this time of year then scrape together whatever cash you have and get away for the holidays. Who knows…you might meet the one in a hotel bar or up a Welsh mountain.

Check back next week for more Christmas dating tips, but in the meantime think about what you really want for Christmas this year, and be honest about the kind of date you would like to find in your stocking on Christmas morning.

Christmas sandals from Next £30, chandelier earrings £10 from Next and red lippy from The Body Shop

Black Friday…do shopping and dating really mix?

Black Friday is coming…but don’t let bargains get in the way of dating!

Black Friday, allegedly the busiest day of the Christmas shopping calendar is here, and we will all be rushing out to grab those unmissable bargains. So can dating and shopping EVER really work?

In many ways dating and shopping are actually quite similar. If you think about it both involve research, browsing, trying things on, weighing up available options and then finally making a decision based on what fits, what suits and what you can afford! Of course some times we end up back in the very first shop we went into and often we get it all home only to find that it isn’t really right for us at all so we go back and ask for a refund…or an exchange!

I am indeed blessed to be married to a man who actually doesn’t mind a bit of light retail therapy now and then. As long as we integrate a decent premium coffee experience or a real ale pub into the event, all is good and shopping will be done-especially at Christmas. We tend to brave the hideous traffic to trot round Bicester Village or head to Banbury and our favourite coffee shop, The Whistling Kettle (follow them on Twitter @whistlingk) for our shopping trips. And, after just over a year of marriage we so far have not had any kind of shopping stress.

However, if you have just met someone and are on, let’s say date two or three, should you risk even suggesting combining a date with a bit of a browse around your favourite retail emporia?

Well there are two ways of looking at this dating dilemma. Firstly you could find that the person you are seeing actually loves shopping as much as you do and could even introduce you to some new shopping outlets and retail experiences. Combine a morning of shopping with a light lunch in a quiet romantic eatery and to be honest, what’s NOT to like!

On the other hand, if your date screws up their face, starts to sweat, breathe heavily and have some kind of retail induced panic attack then it is perhaps NOT such a grand idea. You will have to accept that the closest you are likely to get to any kind of shopping action is probably going to be the gift shop at the museum they will drag you to, or a cheeky browse on Amazon while they nip off for a wee.

I think it is a myth that all men hate shopping, as much as it is a myth that all women love it. I don’t love shopping for food in Tescos anymore than I like having root canal treatment, but that kind of shopping is essential to keep the family running.

However, strolling hand in hand through the twinkly lights of Bicester Village and browsing the beautiful but wildly overpriced goodies in the windows while sipping a chocolat chaud and wearing faux fur is quite a glamorous way to spend a date. Although I was there on a shopping date with Mr A the other day and it rained so my faux fur did look a bit like soggy road kill by the end of the experience.

So if you are heading out on a wintry Black Friday shopping date here are some top tips:

Agree, in advance, if you both actually WANT to brave the shops. If this is not the case and you are really keen to take advantage of Black Friday deals, then agree to meet post shopping after the dirty deed has been done.

If you are both up for some Black Friday action then either have a list of things you plan to buy, or agree to just do low level browsing and see what happens.

Dress appropriately-teetering around in high heels and freezing to death because you haven’t bought a coat will lead to misery.

Do let me know how you get on!

Dating rules! What rules?


I love my job. In fact, I think I probably have the best job in the world.

I can work at home-in a onesie if the mood takes me-and write about things that I really enjoy and have knowledge of. For the purposes of this blog, that ‘thing’ is of course onlinedating,and dating in general, a topic that I have extensive knowledge and plenty of direct experience of, good, bad and ugly. In some cases very bad and extremely ugly.

However, happy as I am to share my dating experiences with everyone, I am finding that quite apart from writing about dating, I have become the person that single friends call on in times of dating crises. Delighted as I am to listen, advise and soothe, I am not entirely sure I ever really provide them with the answers they really need.

For example, the old classic question of ‘how long should I wait until I text him back’ just keeps on cropping up and to be honest with you I am simply not sure what rules actually apply. Over the years, many books have been written about the so-called dating rules, but do they help us shape relationships or potential relationships or do they hinder? Do they hold us back and lead to missed opportunities or protect us from a broken heart?

I have heard single friends of mine refer to the rules many times, and each time I have to question why they are putting so much trust in, and emphasis on, something that has largely been made up!

Personally I think we should throw out the rule book and I have said this many times before. The rules change depending on the book you read anyway, and the so called expert you call on, and I am just of the opinion that life is too short to play games.

If you meet someone, you like them, you get with them and you feel like you want to spend some more time getting to know them then why wait for three days to answer a text?! It is dating madness and potentially relationship suicide. Dating is tough for men and women so don’t make things harder by playing waiting games.

For a start men are scuppered from the word go because whatever they say or do can so easily be wrong or misinterpreted, and as for women if we are too keen they don’t like it and if we are too standoffish then we run the risk of missing out!

I know these are both generalisations, but really my friends just get out there! Go on some dates, if you like each other then arrange to meet again and if you don’t then politely move on.

We are now in the festive season, a time of goodwill to all men (and women) so do yourselves and your dates a favour, be honest, be safe, have fun but don’t waste time tying yourself up in knots trying to play by some made up rules. Just go with the flow and who knows who you might find in your Christmas stocking this year?

Don’t you want me baby?

Don’t you want me baby?

DON’T you want me ohohohoho… as the brilliant Human League song goes, but what DO you do if your dates are not quite going according to plan and you are starting to feel a little unloved and unwanted?
Well for a start my single friends, never do what I did and go down the steep, scary road of self loathing and negativity! Oh I was a dating nightmare. If any of my dates failed to ring, declare undying love or show more than a hint of interest then I was on that slippery path to losing my self confidence and heading for the highway of self destruct!
This is why one of the newest dating sites, is far and away the best way to improve your dating technique and hook up with genuine, honest single people. The brilliant Steve, Anona and Clare (the nerve centre of ) have developed a brilliant and unique feedback system that only you and your date has access to. Although it may sound harsh, the idea is far from that and the system has been designed to help you get better at dating and improve your chances of finding love on line.
You should think of online dating as part of your ongoing personal development, as well as a way to meet new people. It is very rare for people to meet the love of their life within a few minutes of surfing dating sites, and the process can take some time. Instead of feeling impatient and disillusioned, think of your internet dating as a project and part of your bigger life plan. It should still be fun, but if you are serious about finding a partner online then you have to treat the process with some degree of seriousness and be prepared to invest some time and effort in it.
The feedback system gives you the chance to rate your date, thereby offering people a genuine chance to make improvements, if necessary, and also giving the odd ego boost as well which is never a bad thing!
It is not designed to aid character assassination or for you to be deliberately unkind about other singletons, the idea is that you support each other in your dating endeavours! You cannot please everyone, and it is unrealistic to think that everyone you meet on line will instantly fall for you, but by taking part in the feedback system you can truly improve your chances by taking comments in the spirit in which they are intended, instead of plunging into despair!

Happy dating!


Take the plunge!


Take a plunge and create that perfect profile!

AT HQ we are all a quiver with the sheer excitement of the launch of the amazing NEW way to date on line!

We all know it is a bit scary out there in cyber space, who knows who you might bump into (or what!!!) but our lovely new website is the perfect way to start your internet dating career, as well as a fresh start for anyone who has tried it before.

There are loads of useful tips and bits of advice on the site to help you create a really brilliant profile.

Having a killer photo is the first step as it is really important for any potential dates to see your lovely little face beaming out at them from the screen!

Our dating site is all about the H word! HONESTY! So although it might be tempting to upload a photo that is ten years old, or of your younger sister, do not give in to this terrible temptation! Everyone is beautiful after all, and we are ALL different so get a good friend to take a few nice shots so that you can choose your favourite and get it out there!

When it comes to writing your profile you might want to enlist the support of that good friend to lend a hand because writing about ourselves is really hard! Remember that once you write something about yourself it is OUT there so choose your words carefully and think hard about what you want to reveal…save a bit of info for when you meet your date!

There are lots of great tips elsewhere on the website, but just as a little reminder here are our top five:

Be honest, open and clear
Saying that you like to go out and stay in just makes you sound, well, normal! Instead be a bit creative and give some detail about what you really like to do
Keep it lively and chatty, remember this is your shop window to the world of internet dating!
Don’t moan!
Don’t talk about your ex or go on endlessly about your children. I am sure you DO have adorable kids but this is about YOU not them!
Have fun! This is your time to shine! 

Hope to hear from you soon!

Sarah x