A Co Londonderry woman who has been helping the over-45s to find love during lockdown has just launched her own dating agency.
acqui Baker, originally from Draperstown but who now lives on England’s south coast, has been playing Cupid during the Covid-19 crisis by linking singletons through online zoom meetings.
As well as reaching out to lonely hearts, the mum-of-three has spent lockdown training in the art of matchmaking.
And last week she officially launched a new dating agency – Select Connections – which is aimed at people both here in Northern Ireland and in the south of England.
Jacqui says: “Dating can be a minefield to navigate but with Covid keeping us all locked up, it made finding a partner nearly impossible.
“Already I have many people from Northern Ireland who have made many new firm friends from Winchester, Chichester, Bournemouth, Southampton and many other areas on the south coast and they meet every Friday via my hosted zooms.
“We’ve had a few romances and the promise of more when lockdown is over and so many friendships have formed that when things get back to normal, we are going to have an almighty get-together in Northern Ireland for the whole group.”
It was her own experience of trying to find a new partner through online dating that gave Jacqui (56) the idea for a more personalised matchmaking service.
Mum to Ciaran (27), Conor (23) and Lucy (15), she found herself single two years ago after a long term relationship.
She explains: “I tried online dating but it wasn’t for me. Messaging someone for two weeks and arranging to meet them for coffee only to know immediately that there was no attraction was to me a waste of time.
“I have always had the instinct of matching friends, colleagues and acquaintances over the years which has given me so much satisfaction and delight.
“I had the idea to start something last year and had my first event – ‘a dinner with a difference’ – planned for the Merchant Hotel in April with 15 single men and 15 like-minded women but because of Covid it had to be cancelled.
“I had held one earlier in the south coast where I now live and it was a huge success. Through my new events company I plan to do a lot more events like that. People in their 50s and 60s can be very apprehensive about dating and don’t want to be seen to be blatantly looking for someone.
“Having these lovely dinners is a much softer approach and people find it more comfortable.”
Hosting the dinners she ensures everyone is at ease, an approach which has helped make her online Zoom meetings for singles such a success.
Meeting every Wednesday and Friday night since March, the events now attract dozens of people at a time.
The Sip Chat & Fun Quiz nights have now evolved from just a drink and a chat to murder mystery events, team challenges, support evenings for lonely singles, support for men post separation, book club evenings and live art lessons.
Jacqui explains: “A lot of people taking part were on their own looking at the four walls during lockdown and now they go on talking together into the early hours long after the Zoom event has ended.
“Many have formed their own splinter groups and keep chatting throughout the week.”
Now after completing an in-depth course she is an accredited matchmaker of the Association of British Introduction Agencies.
She officially launched her new companies – Select Events NI and Select Connections NI – online on Friday.
Jacqui has enjoyed a career in corporate events but is now passionate about the launch of her new businesses.
Initially aimed at the over-45s, she has ambitious plans to expand it next year to include the 30-45 age group.
Her service also includes added opportunities for men and women to benefit from expert grooming and styling advice, life coaching and even grief counselling.
The events side of the business is one in which she hopes to bring single people together through a number of quirky, high-end occasions.
Jacqui adds: “Having listened to the stories from people taking part in the Zoom events I am really excited and I’m already matching them up in my head. I have a passion for this and I just can’t wait to get members under my belt and start planning dates and events.
“This agency not only personally profiles each client based on their core values but specialises in supporting them emotionally, physically and mentally to deal with whatever form of loss that has led them to seek a new relationship.”
÷ Membership packages with Select Connections start from £295 to be included on the database with £150 per introduction. Head to www.select-connectionsNI.com for more details.