Despite the rise of internet dating, an introduction service is bringing lonely hearts together in a different way. Jaine Blackman reports

Sue Stephens spends a fair amount of time chatting to eligible single men about matters of the heart... all with her husband’s blessing.

“He trusts me but I always tell him if I am going to meet somebody as someone may have seen me and have the wrong idea,” says Sue, of Churchill, near Chipping Norton.

As manager of the Oxfordshire branch of the Susannah Swann Introduction Agency, asking questions about love, life and romance is all in a day’s work for Sue.

Susannah Swann offers a personal introduction service for men and women aged over 40.

“I am never more excited than when I see a couple I can bring together,” says Sue.

“When they go on a first date, I think I am as excited as they are.”

The agency was started last year by ex-family lawyer and mediator Susannah Swann and has four branches – in London, Oxfordshire, Sussex and St Tropez.

Sue and Susannah met about three years ago and got on well.

At the time Sue had her own art gallery selling paintings, sculptures and designer jewellery but that has since closed and Susannah approached her to head her Oxfordshire branch.

“I like people, I have an empathy with them and she thought I would be a good person to have on the team,” says Sue, who has a lovely, chatty, friendly manner.

The agency places ads in publications like Country Life and The Field, along with medical and law journals to attract a mix of well-heeled “members” who pay £5,800 a year in fees (“A lot of agencies are a lot more expensive,” says Sue).

Once she gets a call, Sue sends out a questionnaire and then arranges to meet the client to build up a good understanding of their lifestyle, interests and values with a view to finding someone compatible .

She then arranges to meet them for a personal interview in which she aims to put them at ease and “chat like they are meeting a friend”. Sue checks things like passport, driver’s licence and utility bills to ensure people are being honest about their details, before she will make any introductions.

Occasionally, she will refuse a potential member.

Recently she was contacted by a widower who had lost his wife less than a year ago. “Every time I spoke to him he was almost in tears. He was dreadfully upset and I didn’t think he had given himself the time to grieve,” says Sue, who suggested he leave looking for a new partner for a while.

But once things go ahead, photographs are supplied or taken and a profile prepared.

If Sue thinks a couple would make a good match they are sent each other’s profiles. If feedback is favourable from both, then the “gentleman is given the lady’s telephone number and asked to call her within 48 hours”.

Romance and the importance of getting to know a person properly are stressed to those taking part.

The match may both be people Sue has met or from one of the profiles prepared at the agency’s other three branches.

The agency offers advice and guidelines on things like where to meet and gives moral support. “Some people have been widowed after 20 or 30 years and are nervous about getting in to a physical relationship,” says Sue.

She says there is a good mix of men and women on her books and decries the idea that men are just looking for younger women.

“If someone of 70 said they were looking for someone of 40, I wouldn’t really approve. If they are wanting that there are sugar daddy sites,” she says.

She enjoys dealing with over 40s, saying that by that age looks aren’t as important a factor in making a good match. And she’s a great advertisement for finding love later in life.

Five years ago, aged 55, Sue – who has a 40-year-old daughter and seven-year-old grandson – started chatting with company owner Richard, who lived near her in Chipping Norton, when she was in her garden and he was walking by or they passed in the street while she was taking her beloved border terrier Bridie out.

Having been living happily alone for many years, she wasn’t looking for love but after a couple of dates realised she’d found it and the couple have been married for 20 months.

There have been no Susannah Swann marriages yet. “It’s too soon for wedding bells,” says Sue.

But some successful matches have been made and, as Sue says: “Life and adventures are best shared.”

On Sunday, May 18, Susannah Swann will host a champagne afternoon at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, for single men and women aged 40 years upwards. Tickets are £40; call 01993 813774 to book a place.