Heart Searching: Members-only agency that is open to all: Mean, moody, magnificent? However you see yourself, Andreas Hoffman will try to find a match, he tells Rachel Lipman

CHEAP and cheerful, though probably not how Andreas Hoffman would choose to describe Members, is the phrase that springs irresistibly to mind. Mr Hoffman's young, fast- growing introduction agency offers an inexpensive, no-frills service very different from that provided by more expensive, self-consciously upmarket organisations.

Since its launch last December Members has acquired some 1,400 members from all over the country, attracted by a vigorous advertising campaign in a range of publications: from Sky magazine, targeted at people in their twenties, to the Oldie; from Company and Esquire to Gay Times; and from the Independent and Guardian to various local papers.

That approach immediately points to one of the things that is different about this organisation: its clients represent a wide cross-section of people, both in age and lifestyle. You won't be turned away if you are fat, fifty and female, or a callow 20-year- old youth; and there are enough members in both categories to ensure that nobody tries to match one with the other. Nor do you have to be a brain surgeon or television personality - and you certainly don't have to be rich: to join costs just pounds 25.

This is how it works. You fill out the inevitable questionnaire, with details about yourself and the person you would like to meet: age, height and weight, sexuality (straight, bisexual, gay/lesbian), occupation, appearance (for example boyish, rugged, feminine, fashionable - and don't tick all four), personality (affectionate? ambitious? honest? moody?), and interests (sport, music, literature, pubs and so on).

Crucially - and controversially, since many agencies insist that clients must be looking for a long-term, serious relationship - you then answer the question 'What are you looking for?', choosing from 'friendship', 'casual relationship', 'serious relationship', 'penfriends' and 'as it happens'.

The last of these is the most popular, as it happens, along with 'serious relationship', but Mr Hoffman is adamant that it is both honest and realistic to give people the chance to nominate a casual relationship. 'Most people are looking for a long-term relationship but some want to make new friends without getting seriously involved,' he says. 'Not everyone who goes to an agency wants marriage or a long-term partnership and it is dishonest to pretend that they do. People should have the choice.'

He suggests that the 'as it happens' option most closely reflects the 'traditional' ways of meeting people: when we meet someone for the first time, even when we are attracted to them, there is always an element of chance, of seeing how things go.

Two further questions are 'Do you have any disabilities?' and 'Could your partner be handicapped?' Mr Hoffman says: 'We want to help everyone, though of course some people are easier to match than others.'

Details from the questionnaires are kept on a computer database and, typically, within a fortnight you receive details of five other people with whom the staff of Members have matched you as closely as possible. 'For some people we can be exact, but just because you prefer say a blonde partner, that doesn't mean we won't send you details of a brunette if in other respects you seem well suited.' Every four to six weeks you receive further introductions.

If you want to meet someone, you write to them c/o a box number supplied by the agency, at an extra charge of pounds 15 for up to six box numbers. The advantage of this system is that it provides a safeguard: no telephone numbers or addresses are supplied directly to clients. 'So, although we don't 'vet' our members through a personal interview - that is not possible with a national agency charging economical rates - every member is in control of whether he or she wishes to meet another member. This safeguard is particularly important to women,' Mr Hoffman says. 'In fact I would say that we are as safe as any agency, and safer than most.'

Regular readers of Heart Searching will be familiar with the arguments put forward to explain the phenomenal increase in numbers of people seeking introductions through agencies and classified advertisements: the emphasis on career at the expense of social life; different work patterns, especially for women; changes in social and geographical mobility. For Mr Hoffman, the biggest factors are the growing divorce rate ('once you have lost the knack of chatting up, it's very difficult to get it back') and the understandable reluctance of women to go out by themselves.

He also suggests that the recession has something to do with it. 'People are less friendly and sociable, especially in London. They dress down and don't go out so often. You can't go anywhere in London without spending money - there are very few cheap pavement cafes, as on the Continent.' (He moved to London from Germany three years ago.)

Mr Hoffman is sceptical about some of the claims, and charges, made by more expensive agencies. He insists that Members is not downmarket: 'We have our doctors and pilots, as well as a whole cross-section of people. But not everyone wants to meet someone from exactly the same educational or professional background. It's a real shame that you don't have the opportunity to meet someone who may be suitable just because you don't have the money.'

The appeal of Members to young people was demonstrated on Valentine's Day, appropriately enough, when 25-year-old Mr Hoffman appeared on Channel 4's The Word; along with other experts, he attempted to find a partner for a young woman from 100 likely lads in the audience. But don't worry, girls: the programme's controversial presenter Terry Christian is not, as far as we know, a Members member.

Members: 071-233 5638

The 'Independent' invites readers' comments about their experiences of meeting people through agencies or personal ads. Write to: Heart Searching, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. All letters treated in strict confidence.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee