1996 - 1999: Launch

Uniting Friends was launched by Russell Lerner in October 1996 as part of the Daybreak Barnardo project to support young people in transition to adult services. Its focus was to create a befriending and advocacy service. The organisation was always focused, as it is today, to be user led, involving its service users in the development and delivery of its services. There were just three members of staff at the beginning.

1999 - 2002: Partnership

Uniting Friends was in a partnership with Redbridge Mencap until early 2002.

2002 - present: Independence

In September 2002, the service gained independent charitable status and created a management board. It is run by CEO Russell Lerner and a team of 28 people.  It currently operates a large and busy innovative day opportunities service, an evening and weekend befriending service, a ground to fork allotment project, a nightclub and radio show.

Notable Milestones

May 2006 - Uniting Friends has always been in the forefront towards promoting the rights of people with learning disabilities and in May 2006, following a service user being discriminated in a local pub, it supported a case with the Disability Rights Commission and a service user which resulted in record damages being awarded. This case led the way nationally for others cases to challenge other companies that break the law. 

More than Friends - Over the years Uniting Friends has created many ground breaking projects including a dating agency called More Than Friends. Over 200 members had dates, with 68 members experiencing love for the first time. 42 long term relationships flourished leading to two engagements.


You can watch more about our history as part of a film made for our 21st anniversary celebrations. Read more about our 21st anniversary here.