One of the North East’s small charities of the year has launched a Valentine’s appeal to help ensure more vulnerable people in the region are able to find love.

Current holder of the Community Organisation of the Year title in the disability category of the National Diversity Awards, The Josephine and Jack Project is hoping to raise £2,500 in honour of Valentine’s Day, as it works to support people with learning disabilities to make informed and independent choices in life and in love.

The campaign, which was launched alongside the charity’s new website, was announced by its patron, Smack The Pony and Bridget Jones’ Diary star Sally Phillips, whose son has Down’s Syndrome.

She said of the cause in a Tweet about the appeal, in which she also asked her followers to visit the new website and share news of the campaign: “Very proud to be associated with this fabulous project and be launching the Valentine’s Day appeal.”

Funds raised as part of the drive for donations will help the project, which was highly commended in the Small Charity of the Year category in the most recent North East Charity Awards, to support those with learning difficulties to consider what they’d look for in a partner, how they’d ask someone on a date, and the dos and don’ts of romantic love, including learning about both consent and contraception.

Charity Chief Executive Simon James said: “Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for us to highlight our important work, which supports adults and young people with learning disabilities to lead full and rich lives.

“Our courses, which are conducted in small groups, reached 1,100 people last year, and participants reported an average improvement in wellbeing of almost 12 per cent.”

Courses are led by experienced leaders who guide groups through a variety of topics with the assistance of life-sized cloth figures, Josephine and Jack. The characters, each of which is unique, are anatomically accurate, and have features that help generate discussion and understanding around important issues, such as sexual and general health, pregnancy and routine medical procedures, like prostate exams and cervical screening tests.

The project, which is based at Newcastle’s Good Space, began life as part of Them Wifies community arts organisation before becoming a charity in 2016. It now works with groups such as Guidepost in Gateshead, Journey in Wallsend, with local schools and with a range of clients across the North East.

There are also Josephines and Jacks in Scotland, Northumberland, London and on the Isle of Wight working under license to the project, and this side of the operation is expanding to help it reach even more vulnerable people around the UK.

Simon continued: “Our aim is that nobody will be more than an hour from a Josephine or a Jack course, and with 11 figures currently, we’re well on our way, but in real terms, we’ve barely scratched the surface and have many more individuals we could reach with our work.

“Every little really does help, so whether people are able to give to our appeal themselves, or simply share our website address, we appreciate every bit of support to help us increase our impact, both locally and further afield.”

To donate to the campaign, or to find out more about The Josephine and Jack Project, visit josephineandjackproject.co.uk.