02 May 1997
Bringing togetherness & fighting loneliness

TIMES may change but human needs, particularly to love and be loved, stay the same through the generations. People want friendship, marriage, a future filled with togetherness, but sometimes life conspires to make that right person difficult to find by chance and that is where introduction agencies like the one run by Heather Heber-Percy come in. Heather runs Country Partners, which is based in Hereford but has clients throughout the country. “Loneliness is a killer in town and country and it is more of a problem today than it has ever been,” says Heather. “The biggest things that changed lives in this country from the 50s on were the disappearance of the dance hall and the increasing use of cars. People from 14-60 from all walks of life went to their local dance hall. It was at the heart of the community, along with tennis clubs. They disappeared and nothing has replaced them.” “Also people used cars instead of the bus or they just walked in the local area. Then men went away from their home town or village to work and they met other women and stayed away. Commuting to towns damaged social life in Britain irrevocably.” Heather became aware of just how widespread loneliness was, particularly among farmers, when she worked as a Samaritan in the Shrewsbury area in the early 80s. “One day a friend said I ought to start a club and the idea was to arrange small dinners for them. I put an ad in the paper saying Do you feel lonely? If you feel lonely contact Heather at Country Partners. A lot of men rang but no one was joining – they thought it was a call girls ad! We were pretty green,” laughs Heather, who started Country Partners 14 years ago. A change of advert brought in the real clients and every potential member was interviewed personally, just as they are today. “We have 55 interviewers throughout the country so wherever someone lives they can be interviewed,” explains Heather. “We have a basic form which we absolutely insist the applicant fills in, not the interviewer. You can tell a lot by handwriting and get a better feel for the personality.” The form is the basis of the profile Country Partners prepares which, once approved by the client, will be sent to a prospective match and the two are then left to decide whether or not to meet up. DOWN TO EARTH “With the basic form we are looking at someones wish list and sometimes we have to bring them down to earth. For a woman over 50 for instance who wants to meet a younger man within 60 miles of where she lives, there would be no hope. We have seven women to every man over 50 on the books,” says Heather. But she maintains that it is not as difficult as you might think to find suitable introductions as long as people look for someone within their own social class. “We are still unquestionably class-conscious in Britain,” she says. Generally she finds women are interested in personality rather than looks and still crave the old fashioned courtesies. They want someone gentle who will be kind to children. “Women are frightened of explosive, mercurial personalities but they want someone spontaneous,” she explains. “Men want someone good looking, attractive.” “Difficult clients are the ones who keep moving the goal posts and we really did have someone who wanted to meet a cross-country skier who must be a Francophile and speak fluent French. Amazingly we did find someone.” Some men join in later life after their mother has died. Suddenly they find they havent a housekeeper and feel they should have children. “Finding a lady 20 or 30 years younger is difficult. Young women will only go for an older man if he has money,” says Heather, realistically. But these are extremes and lots of people from agricultural workers to landowners, housekeepers to academics find friendship and romance through introduction bureaux. Country Partners, which costs from 270 to join, has 5000 members actively seeking Ms or Mr Right and they each receive a list of dos and donts to ensure that initial meetings go as safely and enjoyably as possible. Apart from advice on where to meet and for how long, Heather advises people not to give away too many personal secrets, and to be honest if they dont want to arrange another meeting. She also recommends that anyone thinking of joining a similar agency should make sure it is a member of the Association of British Introduction Agencies. ALL-OUT EFFORT “People are relying on you to change their lives but when they join something like Country Partners they should make it part of an all-out effort to meet more people and perhaps join a dining club and things like that,” recommends Heather. She has attended, incognito, the weddings of Country Partners members and just wishes that the stigma of finding a partner through an introduction bureau would fade. It seems unlikely, even though the demand for them is growing. Increasingly it is the well heeled high-fliers of this life who are turning to introduction agencies. For people with a specific ideal in mind and who are too busy to waste time on anyone less, Heather has developed a new service, the County Register. This is the very essence of matchmaking, with Heather using all that she has learned about people over the years to bring about the perfect pairing – for around 5000 a person. But even she admits that its impossible to account for everything, no matter how suitable a couple may seem. “We cant put in that magic ingredient, the chemical attraction that works for the most unlikely of couples,” she says. Inquiries: (01432-342245/ 342204) or 24-hour answer service: (01432-342227). CAPTION: Difficult clients are the ones that keep moving the goal posts, says Heather Heber-Percy who runs an introduction agency for country people.