Meet the kind Knaresborough woman who has organised a Valentine's disco to help her brother find love

It is always heartening to note the sheer volume and breadth of national awareness days we now have in this country, which often can go a long way in helping to raise the profile of an important cause or a topical issue.

Thursday, 20th February 2020, 12:51 pm

This week saw the return of National Random Acts of Kindness Day - an uplifting celebration of the difference that even the smallest of kind gestures can make, and the positive ripple effect this sends across our communities. But with every awareness day comes an important reminder that we must sustain our efforts all year round in order to see the best, most meaningful results.

It is wonderful to have a National Random Acts of Kindness Day as a focal point, but we also need to remember that being kind is something which already comes naturally to us, and it’s about ensuring that we continue to nurture this innate quality.

The best of friends, and close siblings, Dan and Maryse.

The Harrogate Advertiser, in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and sister JPI Media titles in Yorkshire, has launched a major year-long campaign called Salt of the Earth, to share examples of the easy but powerful ways we can brighten somebody’s day. This week we meet Maryse Haywood, who is making a big difference to her brother’s life and the lives of others with learning difficulties.

How one act of kindness could change someone's life: The heartwarming story of Maryse and her brother Dan

Winter can be a difficult time of the year for any of us, with the excitement of Christmas and the hope and promise of the New Year often all too fleeting, as the dauntingly long and dark nights draw in.

Passionate about helping others and making a difference: Maryse Haywood with her brother Dan.

The prospect of the second week of February brings more cheer, though, as scores of loved-up couples get ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day and conquer the winter blues together. But for outgoing and popular 41-year-old Dan Broadhead, who has a minor learning difficulty and lives in Knaresborough, he is still on a search - like so many of us - to find that special someone, and is open about the fact that he sometimes feels lonely, despite his busy social life and being surrounded by friends and family.

His sister Maryse Haywood has stepped in to help Dan find his soulmate by organising a Valentine’s party night for adults with learning difficulties from across the Harrogate district.

Maryse hates to think of her brother feeling lonely, so much like a fairy godmother, she is determined to bring a sprinkle of happily ever after magic to his life. The idea of fairies often conjures up images of the supernatural and the extraordinary, but Maryse is quick to say there is nothing out of the ordinary about what she is doing, and that being kind is just a very easy and natural thing to do - a way of life we choose.

She said: “It’s a choice - people can choose to be happy when they wake up on a morning or they can choose to be miserable. Anybody who knows me knows I have a lot of stuff going on that could challenge the positivity, however, I choose to be kind, I choose to be happy and I choose to make other people smile because it makes me feel happy.

Dan is a well-known friendly face at the Ripon Sainsbury's cafe.

"People can say you’re doing that to make yourself feel good, but what’s wrong with that? I’m not just doing it for that reason, I want to make a difference, but I enjoy the way that helping others makes me feel.

"Dan’s loneliness is quite apparent sometimes. He’s 41, and he’s entitled and deserves to have a relationship just like anybody else - he just feels that something, someone, is missing.

“Everybody wants someone, and it’s hard at the best of times, and February is the month of love with Valentine’s, and actually the reality is that not everybody is loved-up and not everybody is going home to a nice romantic meal, and actually those things are hard to create when you’ve got learning difficulties.

“Dan is very capable, and he has a lot of friends, but the idea of going over to somebody to say hi and taking that step can actually be quite hard, and it’s hard for anybody, with or without a learning difficulty. But everybody needs somebody.”

Dan, who is a well-known and friendly face at Ripon Sainsbury’s cafe where he works, said his sister’s kindness in organising something as simple as a disco could change his life, whatever the outcome, boosting his confidence and self-esteem.

Dan said: “I’m really excited about the disco and meeting new people, and hopefully I get a girlfriend out of it and feel part of something. I would just feel overjoyed, and feel butterflies if I did meet someone. Thank goodness my sister did this to help me, because I am shy and would struggle to do this on my own.

“We both help each other out. It’s good to be kind, it brings happiness to everyone. My sister is lovely, kind and caring, and she does a lot for me.”

Maryse has planned plenty of ice-breakers at the disco, which will take place at Bilton United Reform Church on Saturday, from 7pm to 9.30pm. She hopes the evening will bring happiness for not just her brother, but for everybody else who attends - a chance to make friends, have fun, and potentially find that special someone.

Maryse said: “The problem is that when you’ve got learning difficulties, it’s very difficult to be in an environment that is encouraging love. There tends to be a lot of things available for people with learning difficulties to access during the day, like social education, outreach, learning how to function in the community, and other education, but actually the love aspect is very difficult to create within those parameters.

“What I’m trying to do is just to encourage interaction between people, and the ideal is that it’s going to be a really good night for everyone to enjoy. We try to be kind and caring as a family, and help people wherever we can.”

Dan said the disco could be a gateway to more independence for him too, potentially opening up a whole feast of new opportunities for him to seize.

He said: “It could change my life a lot, and I’d be more independent as well if I found a girlfriend. Instead of relying on my sister and brother in-law, I can say that I’m off out to see my girlfriend. Love is important, it makes the world a happier place, and so does being kind.”

Maryse said North Yorkshire is a kind county, full of people doing good deeds and going the extra mile to help others, and she feels proud to live here. She said: “Just simply reaching out to people can make a massive difference. When you go to London, people are very much focused on where they are going and what they are doing, when actually in Yorkshire I think we are better at smiling and saying good morning.

“I just think it’s nice to smile and acknowledge those people around you, it goes a long way.”

Due to the extraordinary number of charities and community groups in the Harrogate district, inundated with kind people who give up their time to help others, Maryse said people can sometimes undervalue or underrate the contribution they make, dismissing the impact of just small gestures.

She said it is these gestures that all add up to building our kind county. She said: “It’s just about looking at what you can offer, even just an hour a week can really help someone.”

Anybody with a learning difficulty in the Harrogate district is welcome to attend the disco on Saturday night. Call Maryse on 07803 450591.

Community group among newest backers of Salt of the Earth

Harrogate’s Oatlands Community Group, which delivers a whole series of projects to send waves of kindness across the town, has backed the Salt of the Earth campaign, emphasising the importance of sharing acts of kindness to inspire others.

The group’s chairperson Vic Smith-Dunn, said: “Following the evolution of communication through social media, it has become easy for the art of human contact in communities to be lost. We all lead busy lives and using social media to connect with others has become second nature. However, there is no emoji, GIF or hashtag that has the ability to replace a friendly smile, or a thoughtful gesture through a hands-on random act of kindness.

“Not only is it important to make time in our busy lives to reach out and help others, but it is also important to share these stories. People are often uncomfortable sharing and celebrating the things that they do for others as it feels like bragging, or an attempt to be recognised for a good deed.

"However, sharing our stories is powerful, it not only has a positive effect for those that read them (let’s face it there is always an abundance of negative news to read) but it may also inspire others to help someone in the same way you have. Let’s use the Salt of the Earth campaign to spread positivity and let’s contribute to growing and cultivating kindness in the communities we have around us.”

Be part of our Salt of the Earth campaign

Have you done something kind that you feel proud of, or know someone who has? We would love to hear all about it. Email: [email protected] to get in touch.