Spectrum Spring Summer 2022

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Spectrum SPRING/SUMMER 2022


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Support worker skills

Find out how to become a support worker with Autism Together

The amazing art of

Amy Le Dain Read our interview with the Welsh autistic artist and children’s author

Autism award winners F E AT U R E

We speak to our River Park kiosk team about winning a prestigious national award

Spectrum NEWS



Autism Together staff members to take on 500-mile fundraising hike IN late spring, two of our support staff take on a huge 500-mile walking challenge through the Pyrenees mountain range – while raising money for Autism Together. Activity Leader Claire Quinlan and Senior Support Worker Hannah Fulton work at our Raby site and were inspired to undertake a pilgrimage called Camino de Santiago. It is a huge trek from Southern France, through the Pyrenees to Northern Spain. We caught up with Claire (pictured below-right) to find out more about the challenge and why they’re taking it on… What made you choose this pilgrimage in particular? Caz Bennett who works at Raby Hall recommended a film called “The Way”. We watched it and it was so inspiring. We researched it and this was the recommended route for your first pilgrimage. We also wanted a challenge, and with this hike beginning at the Pyrenees mountains we thought this would be perfect for us.


What preparations will you make to get ready for the hike? Over the past year we have completed a number of mountain peaks, including Snowdon and Scafell. We now need to start training with weight to get used to constantly carrying our backpacks. We also plan a walk once a month with our walking group called “Raby Ramblers” which includes myself, Hannah, Gia Smith and Laura Goodwill. It might be warm at that time of year, how do you cope in the heat? May was the recommended time to walk, due to less rainfall and it won’t be too hot.

How will you be sharing autism awareness and acceptance along the way? Chloe [Jones] has said she will be giving us t-shirts to wear, therefore people will ask us about Autism Together. The Camino is all about meeting new people and sharing your life experience, Autism Together is a big positive part of our lives and this will be shared amongst other pilgrims. Follow Claire and Hannah’s 35-day hike on our Facebook and Instagram pages and show your support at their fundraising page: www. justgiving.com/fundraising/clairequinlan6

Spectrum NEWS





As I write this article, we have just passed the second anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown and what a two years it has been! There has been much to celebrate. Our staff team continues to make a massive difference to the lives of the people we support


WIRRAL GLOBE VOUCHER SCHEME At the end of 2021 we heard the fantastic news about the results of the Wirral Globe’s regional voucher funding scheme. Thanks to our supporters across the North West, Autism Together managed to secure the largest share of the funding available… over £5,000! We’re so grateful to everyone who nominated us for a share of the money, and all those who collected and returned the vouchers from Wirral Globe and its sister newspapers. Autism Together was in the running, along with 7 other regional charities, to get a share of £20,000 from the parent company that produces the Globe and a number of other North West newspapers. How much we stood to receive depended on how many vouchers were cut out and returned, with a box ticked for Autism Together. Staff managed to fill all three of the collection boxes in Oak House, and it seems that the local community did a fantastic job collecting and posting in other boxes – which were located in

supermarkets and newsagents right across Wirral. The money will go towards funding the in-demand Autism Advice Sessions that our award-winning Autism Training and Advisory Service delivers. These sessions provide support, reassurance and strategies to help autistic individuals and their loved ones – covering a wide range of topics such as employment, parenting, communication, coping strategies and anxiety reduction.

Our staff team continues to make a massive difference to the people we support... through their commitment, hard work and compassion, ensuring the people they are supporting are engaged, entertained and achieve their goals. However, we cannot underestimate the toll the past two years has taken on the health and wellbeing of the people we support and our staff teams. Throughout the past two years, Autism Together has provided a range of resources aimed both at colleagues and the people we support. These focus on ways to better look after our minds and bodies and range from downloadable charts to help motivate people to drink more water each day, healthy recipes with easy-read instructions so people we support can join in, and videos showing simple exercises that can be done at home or in the office. Maintaining mental health is probably the most important consideration and we offer various routes that staff can follow to get any additional support they need. However, often the simplest things are the most effective and so we encourage everyone to look out for, and be kind to, each other – be that a colleague or a person we support. As we enter the third year of this global pandemic I am hopeful that life is getting back to normal and that we have much to look forward to. 3

Spectrum NEWS


Tribute to one of our founders, Helen Benson, unveiled by daughter Cathy L

ast year we held a small event on our Raby site to pay tribute to Helen Benson, one of our founders. Attended by Helen’s family and members of our Senior Leadership Team and Trustees, it was a chance for Helen’s daughter Cathy to unveil a plaque commemorating Helen’s work and her importance to our charity. The plaque is part of a new bench seating area surrounding an acer tree, set beside our sensory garden within the grounds at our Raby site. Cathy Benson spoke about the wonderful work her mother – alongside her father, Keith Benson – did for our charity from its very first days, and also remembered her brother Neil who was one of the earliest residents supported by the organisation. Our CEO, Sue Stubbs, thanked the staff involved in making the tribute possible, then went on to say that Autism Together treasures its history and will never forget the efforts of the founding parents. Sue recognised Helen Benson’s incredible commitment to the charity for so many decades, to her vital fundraising and her desire to improve life for autistic people. Here is the full tribute, paid by Cathy Benson to her mother Helen… “For those who didn’t know my parents, they were both founder members of the Wirral Society For Autistic Children as it was then known. My father, Keith Benson,


was the Chair, and my mother, Helen was the Honorary Secretary, for nearly 40 years. You may be wondering why they were so involved with autism for so long. “My brother Neil, who sadly passed away in 2014, was diagnosed with autism in 1959, when he was 3. My parents realised they should see a specialist because, although he could speak, he didn’t use his speech to communicate in the same way as other children. There was very little awareness of autism back then, and the consultant recommended they just put him in a home and forget about him – this was not an uncommon attitude back then. Of course they did not, and Mum set about teaching him herself. The next time the consultant saw Neil, he was amazed at the progress he had made and congratulated Mum – and admitted he’d been wrong. “If we fast forward to Neil’s teenage years, my parents were becoming really worried about the future; then they heard about John Brady and his very courageous act of civil disobedience, which you probably already know about… And in

1968, the WSAC was born, with a group of parents including mine, the Bradys and Joe and Ann Kelly – and Mum got down to full-time voluntary charity work. “Even before this, she had always had the vision of a sheltered community for autistic adults, where they would live together and be cared for – but not just cared for – she wanted Neil and others like him to live lives that were fulfilling and interesting and creative. She wanted them to always be engaged in meaningful activities, making things, making music, growing things, looking after animals, and so on. She knew a few such communities for people with learning difficulties already existed elsewhere in the country, and she began to single-mindedly work towards this goal. “Her biggest talents were for fundraising and campaigning. Her fundraising started with small coffee mornings in our living room, with a few friends and neighbours eating cake, but she quickly moved on to more ambitious projects. She learned that trust funds could be an excellent source of funding; she became an expert in applying to trusts and receiving large donations. “She didn’t stop fundraising when Raby

Hall opened in 1977, which might have seemed like the culmination of her efforts and the fulfilment of her dreams, but she kept finding new projects to work towards – Helen House, the narrow boat, the community houses, the farm… and so on. During her years as Honorary Secretary she raised over £3m altogether. “In some ways, she was quite shy and certainly very modest. My father was always more in the limelight, while Mum worked more behind the scenes, organising and cajoling – she was terrified of public speaking, but extremely persuasive and charming when dealing with people one-to-one. For example, she persuaded the head of Merseyside Improved Housing to finance the building of Helen House – to the tune of about £150,000. This was the first time a housing association had been involved in this kind of project. “She was a brilliant writer. Her letters, whether to trust funds, politicians, journalists, or celebrities whom she hoped to bring on board, were very effective, very direct, often moving, often quirky, often witty, and occasionally written on the backs of cereal packets if she had run out of paper! My father always said that, of the two of them, it was Mum who was the real ideas person. When she passed away, I received a card from a well-known local politician saying simply: ‘She was one of the world’s innovators.’ “Autism really was her life’s work, and she would work 13 or 14 hour days when she was engrossed in a particular fundraising effort or campaign, and she was constantly reading and researching about autism, right up until the end of her life. “However, I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that she was worthy and hardworking but dull. She was very worthy and hardworking, but never dull. She loved poetry, and art, and dancing, and wine, and cats! And she had quite a dark sense of humour, she loved travelling and spoke French like a native speaker. She always used to say that if it hadn’t been for Neil, she would have been quite a selfish, hedonistic person, but I never actually believed that. “Finally, I just want to say that I am delighted to be here to unveil this tribute to my Mum’s contribution to autism, I know she would love this tree and this bench, but I also know she wouldn’t forgive me if I stood up here and talked about her without thanking all the staff who looked after my brother Neil with such love and dedication and energy. She always appreciated, so much, what they did for him.”




PORT SUNLIGHT RIVER PARK Autism Together’s role at Port Sunlight River Park is changing this year, as we welcome a new managing agent to oversee the site’s day-to-day running. National charity The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) take over the supervision of the popular Wirral landmark, in partnership with the Land Trust. Our organisation managed the site since it first opened to the public back in 2014, and we are happy to say we will continue to work within the park, in partnership with TCV. Autism Together will continue operating the Heritage Centre café and kiosk, while offering workplace opportunities on site for the autistic adults we support. Port Sunlight River Park is a 70-acre former landfill site which was reclaimed and revitalised by landowners the Land Trust, alongside Autism Together, under a succession of dedicated park rangers and volunteers. TCV now takes the reins and we look forward to working alongside them and Land Trust in future. TCV already manages multiple sites across England on behalf of the Land Trust. In the Merseyside and Cheshire areas, this has included Liverpool Festival Gardens from 2013 to 2018, and Countess of Chester Country Park since 2014. TCV and Autism Together have previously worked together on projects at the River Park, including making a lapwing enclosure. We look forward to being part of this next phase in the park’s development.

Angie Kemp, Autism Together’s Business Development Director, said: “Autism Together is proud to have managed the River Park for the past eight years, helping oversee its transformation into the vibrant and beautiful leisure destination it is today. “Over that time our rangers and volunteer teams helped create this vital habitat for wildlife, including rare wildflowers and plants, bees, butterflies, small mammals and a range of birds, winning a number of awards and opening the onsite Heritage Centre and café. “We look forward to working closely with The Conservation Volunteers and the Land Trust, while continuing to support autistic adults and serve the community at the River Park in future.” Fiona Richards, TCV Operations Director, said: “TCV is delighted to be working with the Land Trust and Autism Together on a site that has had such a vibrant and committed group of volunteers. “TCV is confident that the addition of our experience and expertise will offer new opportunities to people to get involved and have a lasting positive impact on the park and the health and wellbeing of everyone who wants to join us.” Euan Hall, Land Trust Chief Executive, added: “I would like to thank Autism Together for their considerable efforts over the last eight years. “Their work at Port Sunlight has made a huge difference to the lives of so many people and it has been a pleasure working with them.”


Spectrum NEWS ART

GIFTED ARTIST ALEX PRESENTS US WITH HUGE AUTISM ARTWORK Just before Christmas, we were presented with a fantastic book of bespoke art, created by friend of Autism Together, Alex Baldwin. Alex is a hugely talented autistic artist from Wirral, and has had a close relationship with Autism Together ever since attending our activity groups as a teenager and later becoming a volunteer and mentoring others accessing the groups. His latest piece of art is called ‘Ace Facts about the Autistic World’ and the impressive project – which expands across 12 A3 pages of original, hand-drawn and coloured artwork – serves

as a guide to autism, with each page highlighting a positive aspect to being on the autism spectrum. Alex said: “Each page is presented by two fictional characters named Al and Alexandra, set in a Sensory World... “In order to create this project I took inspiration from James Cameron’s Avatar and cartoon characters in order to come up with something more original and creative.” Our CEO Sue Stubbs received the artwork from Alex and was very impressed. Find out more about Alex’s art on Instagram: @alex_baldwin97

Defibrillator funding success The defibrillator our supporters fundraised for has been installed at our Heritage Cafe site at Port Sunlight River Park. We announced the appeal at our Summer Fun Day last year and, since then, our fantastic supporters and AED Donate have helped us raise the £2,000 needed to install the life-saving device. The defibrillator could save the lives of autistic people working at the park, the charity’s staff, volunteers, supporters or the general public who enjoy the site daily. Claire Hughes, who supports our award6

winning Kiosk team at the River Park, said: “I have had to use my first aid training in the past while working on site, and so it’s very reassuring to know the defibrillator is here and could save someone’s life, if needed.” Pictured (left) is River Park Kiosk volunteer Jake next to the recently-installed defibrillator. The defibirillator unit is located to the right of the Heritage Cafe’s main doors. Visitors will find the cafe building and kiosk at the riverside viewing area, below the park’s summit.


f o n o ti a n i The imag

n i a D e L y m A Amy Le Dain t is rt a h it w ts a h c Paul Baker eas and id e th t u o b a s le a from North W eries of s l u tf h g li e d r e h d inspirations behin children… books for autistic



enuinely multi-talented people are rare. So when a young creative from North Wales got in touch to tell us she was following up her first musical release with a book for autistic children that she had created, written and designed herself, we had to find out more. Amy Le Dain from Wrexham is an artist, writer, designer, singersongwriter and sound engineer. Much of her work focuses on autism and creating art that is relatable to young autistic people, something Amy says she could not easily find when she was growing up. “When you Google books about autism they’re usually aimed at parents,” she says. “One that I read when I was going through the diagnosis process was all based on an adult view of it. When I was a kid I’d read books and not relate to any of the characters at all, and I thought ‘Why is there not a book where the [autistic] kids can relate and not go through life thinking they’re just different?’. “If the character is there then they’re not different. There is a character that they can relate to, there’s a character that understands. Whereas I would just read a book and think ‘I don’t relate to any of this at all’, as a kid.” Back in early 2020, just prior to the pandemic, Amy and a group of friends recorded one of her songs for a college project. Amy kindly donated proceeds from sales of the recording to Autism Together, something she continued to do with her series of children’s books ‘Autism & Sea’. The song was called The Puppet and dealt with the subject of ‘masking’. The Autism Service describes masking or camouflaging as behaviour seen in many autistic children “...when they learn, practice, and perform certain behaviours and suppress others in order to be more like


those around them. “This is a common situation for children in schools who mask when they are in the classroom, meaning teachers do not see anything that would lead them to believe the child is autistic, but at home they can drop the mask and parents and carers notice behaviours not seen in school.” At the time of the song’s release we spoke to Amy, who said: “I myself have autism, so it was something that really meant a lot to me. The concept came from the aspect of masking in my everyday life because, especially until recently, I spent most of my life doing it. I had the idea of The Puppet floating around in my head for a while because that’s how I felt.” Amy was assisted by fellow

masking and how I felt about it… but maybe refer to it as like an act, because that’s kind of what it is and kind of how I spend every day of my life. “Although it was specifically for me autism-based, I felt like it was more relatable to everybody in that way, because obviously everyone masks to a certain extent, autistic or not. “I think if everybody can relate to it, then they’ve got more chance of understanding it from a different perspective as well.” Amy recalls her autism diagnosis came as an adult in her early 20s. When the diagnosis came, Amy reveals she felt mixed emotions: “It’s a weird feeling really. It’s a relief, but it’s kind of like a sadness as well. “I cried for hours, I think.

It was never really meant to leave my bedroom. I showed it to friends and they were like, ‘you need to get this printed’... students Sam Parry and Tyrese Gorman, who were studying Sound Engineering and Audio Production at college. They recorded the song as part of their Welsh Baccalaureate when they had to come up with a community-based project of their choice, with Amy’s Dido-esque vocals helping propel this moving and heartfelt song. While Amy wrote The Puppet particularly in relation to autism, she explains how she wanted the song’s lyrics to speak to everyone. “I wanted to write a song that people who were masking could relate to without specifically using the words ‘autism’ and ‘masking’, because I sometimes feel that if you use the word ‘autism’ there’s a preconceived idea of what it actually is. “Whereas I wanted people to listen to the lyrics and understand

Because it wasn’t a thing that just happened, it was a process of years and years and years of just trying for somebody to understand... “In primary school it was dismissed as I was quite academically clever, so it was like ‘Oh she’s absolutely, completely fine’, but then my mum would get it all at home really.” Having taken the first step down the singer/songwriter path with aplomb, Amy’s next creative endeavour was quite a surprise as she was inspired to create her own series of children’s books about autistic characters. Needing something to concentrate on when the 2020 pandemic hit, working on the books gave Amy a focus during a period when she was finding it tough

to deal with all the changes coming along. “There was no warning and there couldn’t be a warning that it was all going to change, and it hit me like a ton of bricks,” she says. Amy’s answer to how to fill the void created by that first lockdown came to her, as so many good ideas do, as she was falling asleep. “I actually was lying in bed when it came to me. I was trying to go to sleep when this character came into my head, which was actually Ollie. “I’m the same with every idea that I have. So if I have an idea I can’t just wait until the next day to do it, I have to kind of set it in motion straight away. So I had to get up at this ridiculous time of the night and start drawing this character art. “I think it was 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning or something stupid, drawing an octopus with headphones on, and then kind of writing the first page. The rest of it grew from there.” Her concept for Autism & Sea was to have a range of different characters who all display different autistic traits, in order to show how every person on the autism spectrum does not experience the world in the same way, or have the same difficulties or sensory differences. “I never wanted it to be [just] one character because I think, fundamentally, when you have one character you kind of close off the chances of people to understand that it [autism] is different. “I feel like in lots of programmes and lots of books there is only ever one character that’s autistic. And they [the audience] see it as ‘that’ and think [autism] it’s just ‘that’, because there’s only the one character. “I felt like if I did that with the book I would be relaying what I didn’t want, which is that autism is the same in every person. Obviously it has traits,



that are similar but it affects people differently so, that’s why I wanted at least three different characters.” Since 2020 Amy has taken these three characters – Finn the turtle, Astrid the starfish and Ollie the octopus – and created three Autism & Sea books made, as it says on Amy’s website, “to help autistic children understand themselves, and non-autistic children understand what is meant by the term ‘autistic’.” The first book ‘The Adventures of Finn, Ollie & Astrid’ serves as an introduction to the characters and their individual traits. Next came ‘I Shine Differently’, which looks more closely at autism in girls, and lastly ‘A New School For Ollie’ deals with making the transition to a new school and dealing with any big changes to a daily routine. The subsequent popularity of the books both surprised Amy and prompted her to expand her product range to include Autism & Sea communication cards, stickers, badges and even soft toy versions of the main characters. “I was quite shocked because initially it was never really meant to leave my bedroom. I just showed it to a couple of my close friends and they were like, ‘you need to get this printed’. I think for the first book I literally printed off just 10 copies... I had more than 10 orders within the first 20 minutes of telling people about it.” Using a combination of social media, her website, and positive word of mouth Amy saw the books reaching a larger and larger audience over the past two years. “It was beneficial that a lot of my [Facebook] friends are teachers, so they do come across children or individuals who are autistic, so it helped in that respect. And then I started reaching more people when I went to Instagram, because I could make my audience a bit bigger. So I’ve sent quite a few to America now, they’ve gone to California and 10

Mississippi, and Australia… “I’m happy about it, but then it’s like: ‘how did I manage to do that from my bedroom?’. Obviously I like selling copies, but I prefer getting the reactions from the kids… that’s a really good feeling, especially when their parents say they don’t really engage in reading but they’ve taken a shine to a specific character in one of the books, that’s really good.” So, what’s next for Amy Le Dain? While writing for a young-adult audience might seem the perfect next move, Amy isn’t quite ready to leave Autism & Sea behind. Her former high school recently asked

her to give a presentation to the students there about her books. But, as the books are aimed at a somewhat younger audience, it has inspired Amy to use her skills with sound and visuals to come up with a new way to present the work, and its message about autism, to an older age group. “I’ve got this idea of rather than telling them about it, showing them how to experience it. And I think that would be more relatable to an older audience because when you’re older you’ve already started to build your own opinions on things. So they’re probably going to take more from an experience rather than reading it. “I want to create a sensory overload simulator type of thing. So I want to use three projections of different scenarios. I’ve started off with a school scenario as that’s where I

would be showing it. I wanted the middle projection to be the front of the classroom and then the two sides of the classroom, with a quadrophonic setup of speakers which is one in every corner, and then I wanted to record different sounds, like the ticking of a clock, tapping, chatting. “First I wanted to have what a neurotypical would experience and then I wanted to be able to bring that down on the sound desk and then bring all the other aspects up, and make it lighter and then bringing noises to the front. “And I wanted them to come from certain areas of the room so it wasn’t just coming from a stereo setup, because that’s not how you’d experience it in a classroom – you’d experience it from every single direction. “So I wanted them to experience this, rather than be told about this. And I’m quite excited about the idea, and I hope I can do it as part of the uni course, I think that it would be really quite cool.” Fingers crossed then for some more nautical adventures with Autism & Sea. And it sounds like we can expect some rather original and exciting creative endeavours as Amy continues to experiment in the fields of sound and lighting, with a continuing mission to share autism awareness and understanding with the next generation. To find out more about Amy Le Dain and order copies of her Autism & Sea books, message her on Facebook or Instagram: @Autismandsea or email: autismandsea@gmail.com


Becoming a

SUPPORT WORKER… So, what would it involve and what sort of things would you be doing if you became a support worker with Autism Together?


ell, you’d be working with autistic adults who access the charity’s services for support. It’s an interesting and varied job role. Jenny Ormond, a current support worker with the charity, said this about her career at Autism Together: “This job, it changes your life actually, because it’s so rewarding and so good. I know I’ll be here until I retire.” The organisation’s staff teams support autistic adults across three main services: Residential, Supported Living, and Community & Vocational Services. Residential and Supported Living roles are similar. The first involves working with individuals living in residential properties, while the latter is about supporting individuals

to live more independently in their own rented properties where they are the tenant. Duties in both roles are similar, such as accompanying people to leisure activities and appointments, helping them with personal hygiene and personal care, helping to prepare meals, maintaining the standard of living within their house, and supporting them through times when they are feeling anxious. Community & Vocational Services comprises activities, skill-based training and other learning opportunities for the people we support to access throughout the day. They offer each individual the chance to develop work, life and communication skills to help them

If this sounds right for you, take your first step into a career in care with Autism Together…

salaries start from £10.10 per hour. Don’t worry if you have not done this type of work before, because you will receive full training from our awardwinning in-house team in how to do the job. You’ll also be paid while you are training. As a new member of the team, you will be working with experienced

Our organisation has a range of roles available right now, working to support autistic adults in locations across Wirral, West Cheshire and in Wrexham too. We currently have vacancies in Brombrorough and Bebington, Great Sutton and Willaston, along with other locations in the region. Our support worker jobs offer flexible hours and the majority of


28 days’ annual leave, plus an optional further 5 days’ leave. Company sick pay scheme, rising to 8 weeks’ full & 8 weeks’ half pay. Access to NEST pension scheme with employer contribution. Cycle To Work scheme.

reach their full potential. Autism Together’s head office is based in Bromborough, but the charity has services in locations right across Wirral, extending into West Cheshire and North Wales too. Ceri Peacock, who manages our Recruitment Team, said: “We employ over 700 staff, supporting over 400 people – and we’ve been dedicated to supporting autistic people for over 50 years, since we started back in 1968. “We currently have a range of full-time and part-time positions available, working across our services. Or, if you prefer more flexible working, we are always on the lookout for relief staff, ready in reserve for us to call on to cover absences within our support teams.” team members and managers, plus we offer ongoing support and further training to develop your skills and gain formal qualifications in health and social care. Why not send over your CV to our Recruitment Team today? You might be taking your first step into a brand new career...

Staff discounts at restaurants, leisure facilities, high street stores and more. APPLY ONLINE: www.autismtogether.co.uk/jobs EMAIL YOUR CV TO: recruitment@autismtogether.co.uk



Say hello to our award-winning

RIVER PARK KIOSK TEAM Paul Baker chats to the people we support who last year helped reopen the food and drink counter at Port Sunlight River Park and then won a national award!


group of adults supported by Autism Together won a prestigious national award in December 2021, thanks to their work serving the community at a popular visitor attraction in Wirral. The talented young men were recognised by the Dimensions Learning Disability and Autism Leaders List 2021 for their work at Port Sunlight River Park, learning new skills and interacting with the public. Supported by Autism Together staff, the group – Chris Molloy, Daniel Rodger, Jake Sanguinetti, Liam Sharp, Steve Parson and Conor Jones – take turns to run the food kiosk, alongside their regular River Park duties, such as mowing and litter picking. Having been chosen by an expert panel of judges, who saw almost 200 fantastic entries this year, the people we support at the River Park take their place on the Leaders List for 2021 along with a select group of individuals who have achieved so much over the past year. The Dimensions Leaders List recognises the extraordinary achievements of people with learning disabilities and autism across a variety of categories, allowing people with disabilities to be their own spokespeople and advocates. The overall winners are also judged and chosen by former winners of the awards. The ceremony was held online and presented by BBC Radio 2’s Ken Bruce. The men were recognised, in part, for their efforts in helping reopen the popular River


Park kiosk, after it had closed during the pandemic, and began serving drinks and snacks to the visiting public again last summer. Liam said of his co-workers: “Everybody’s been really reassuring and supportive. It’s a nice mix, really. If they show you how to do it, you just learn on your feet, really. “They’re all really nice blokes and decent guys so it’s easy to get stuff done when you’re working with nice people.” In order to safely work in the kiosk and its kitchen, the group had to complete food hygiene courses, giving them an understanding of safe food handling procedures, including personal hygiene, general cleaning and how to prevent contamination. The handling course included how to safely lift, lower, push, pull and carry items, which is particularly important in a small kitchen space. Jake said: “At first it was a bit of a struggle for me, but once I got through the challenges they were really good. “I learnt all about the health and safety of the kiosk, about what’s cross contamination and what’s not. I’ve found it really quite good.” While this was a slightly daunting task at first, all the men took to their studying and the eventual practice with great diligence. They all really enjoyed it in the end, especially working together as a team – learning from and helping one another. Steven said: “I previously used to do voluntary work on a Saturday [in the cafe], just before lockdown which was good, so



I’ve been helping everyone out… I enjoy doing that. “So I’ve been showing everyone how to use the till and things like that. It’s nice to see customers back… and it’s nice to have people to talk to around the park again. Having the customers back has been good.” The team members have also completed their Environmental ASDAN award through various projects at the River Park, and they are currently completing their World of Work ASDAN with some opting for the Catering Assistant element and some choosing the Horticulture modules of the ASDAN award. What’s more, all of the volunteers received a Personal Achievement Award from Autism Together for completing their training. These awards are given internally and gained for achievements and learning new skills.

This has been a huge undertaking by the men, we’re so proud of all they’ve achieved Autism Together Awards Manager, Mike Stormes, said: “This has been a huge undertaking by the men from our River Park volunteer group and we’re so proud of all they’ve achieved. “The work they have been doing around the River Park has been brilliant and it is a pleasure to see them recognised for it. “The more they work at the kiosk, the more confident they are and the more they are enjoying the challenge and the interactions with the public. “Each of the team was thrilled to receive their Personal Challenge Certificates on completion of their training and it is to their credit and the staff who have supported them that they have done so well in this enterprise. “Huge thanks to River Park team leader and all our staff who support this talented group. Thanks also to National Lottery Heritage Fund who provide vital funding to help provide this service, and to the park’s owners The Land Trust for their support.” The Kiosk is open at Port Sunlight River Park Heritage Centre, 10am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, each week.

Meet Mike Stormes, Autism Together’s new Awards Manager We caught up with Mike to find out a little more about his role…


n the time I have been Awards Manager I have managed to set up two John Muir awards involving two different service areas. One through Social Enterprise and the other at Port Sunlight River Park. This has led to over 60 people we support currently working towards a John Muir award. We’re currently looking at John Muir awards for the team at Raby Gardens too. With the help of Kevin Mulligan from our Community Health & Wellbeing team, we have managed to reintroduce the Rock Hopper swimming award for four of the people we support, through a pilot group at a local leisure centre. Thirty more individuals are being supported to complete various different ASDAN awards. To help them complete this, I have made the booklet they use to provide the evidence for their awards a lot more user friendly. Currently, 12 people we support have passed an internal moderation and are waiting for external moderations and certificates to arrive. Some of the people who we support in this cohort have never done an ASDAN before, so this is an excellent achievement. We still have over 100 individuals currently completing their ASDANs. We also managed to reintroduce the BAGA award for a number of people that attend our Community Health & Wellbeing department and access the trampolining area. We have many personal achievements that people have completed and have been celebrated. Some of the ones to mention are James who went to Chester Zoo for the first time in his life, and Tim who summitted Moel Famau in challenging weather conditions. I have been very busy with our Port Sunlight River Park group as they successfully opened the kiosk

at our Heritage Centre. I helped the team complete ‘Click e-Learning’ in various subjects relevant to their work serving the community, and of course they recently won a national Autism Leaders List award for this work in the local community. We also have our own narrowboat which hasn’t been used during the pandemic. I look forward to getting back on the canal and working with my colleagues Keith Saunders and Emma Crabb on reintroducing National Navigators Awards and Waterways Awards for the people we support.




Find out more about the two surprise alpaca births we had at Raby Gardens


ack in autumn, we enjoyed the arrival of not one but two baby alpacas at our Raby site. Autism Together’s animal husbandry team manages a menagerie of animals, with help from the people we support, including pigs, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and, of course, alpacas. However, the team had no idea that two of their females were expecting babies. Little Gabe was the first to be born and Claire Quinlan, an Activity Leader at Raby, was on hand to meet the new arrival. “Half-seven in the morning I came in and he had just been born,” said Claire. “We had no idea at all, if it was any of them we’d have put money on Jenny being pregnant as she’s a lot rounder than Ali. But it was lovely to come in and see a little baby lying in the field.” When we acquired four alpacas – three females, Jenny, Davina and Ali, and one male called Inca – it was hoped that the patter of tiny hooves would be heard one day, but the animal husbandry team at Raby Gardens had no idea the miracle

Autism Together’s Raby site is in a picturesque rural area, with residential and respite services set alongside woodlands and fields for the people who live there to explore and enjoy. Sarah Walker is an Activity Manager 16

mum would be Ali. Claire explained: “Ali, his mum, we nearly lost her a year ago, she was really poorly. She was very ill and the oxygen in her blood was only 6%. “We would have lost her, but being an alpaca they’re used to being in high altitude (with lower levels of oxygen) so that’s the thing that saved her life.” As Claire first found the baby alpaca, or cria as they are known, she has developed a special bond with the infant. “We come in each day and sit down and mum’s becoming a bit more confident having us around and the baby’s getting more confident too.” When it came to naming the young cria, the team decided to call him Gabe, after the vet who saved mum Ali’s life a year ago. The furry arrival was an immediate hit with the people we support and at Raby Gardens, and explains the importance of having animals on site for autistic people to interact with and look after: “It’s very therapeutic, I think. A lot of people find them very relaxing. “People can either hold them and stroke them, or they can have animals at hip height in enclosures, so they can

caused quite a stir amongst the local media too, filling column inches in the local papers and seeing two TV crews roll into Raby. And, just as life was settling down for our alpaca herd, along came another cria! You wait a year for a baby alpaca and two come along at once… Yes, just one month after the birth of baby Gabe, another of our females, Davina, gave birth to another male. Dark chocolate brown in colour, with a striking white stripe above his eye, the people we support wasted no time in naming him Alfie. Alfie and Gabe weren’t the only new additions though. With two chinchilla giant rabbits and four pygmy goats also being donated to the menagerie, our Raby Gardens family just keeps growing!

Alf ie

just stroke them and come away when they’re ready.” You can find out much more about all the animals we look after at Raby Gardens over at our YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/c/AutismTogether If you’d like to support the work Autism Together does at Raby Gardens, you can make a donation via our website. 16


Autism Acceptance Month RCN: 1007878

IN April 2022 we celebrated our first ever Autism Acceptance Month. Each April we hold an annual month of celebrations and events to mark World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd. However, this year we made a change to the message in order to better reflect what people in the autistic community were asking us to focus on. We have listened to comments we received during April awareness months of the past, asking us to switch our message and focus the campaign towards autism acceptance. The National Autistic Society, among other charities, have also decided this year to make the change. In terms of our message for April, it was all about understanding, support and acceptance for autistic people, something we thoroughly believe in as a charity and service provider. Our award-winning Autism Training and Advisory Service (ATAS) has long been spreading a message of

autism acceptance, through its range of training courses offered to UK businesses. This training is designed to help their staff make meaningful changes to the way they work to help autistic customers more easily access their services, and autistic colleagues be better understood and accepted in the workplace. Yvonne Smith from ATAS is excited about this new change in focus, saying: “We’re strong advocates of this change in approach. Many articles have been written of late expressing how autistic people feel awareness has been achieved, but now acceptance is needed. I like this message very much and look forward to supporting autism acceptance throughout April and beyond.” As part of this year’s Autism

Acceptance Month over 50 people took part in our Get Active for Autism challenge event - doing at least 54 miles of exercise and fundraising £54 during the month of April for the people we support. We chose 54 as our charity will soon be celebrating its 54th birthday. We raised over £3,500 during the event. Also during April we worked with the Trafford Centre in Manchester to launch their new accessibility guide for people with hidden disabilities. We used this opportunity to promote autism acceptance through an interactive and educational video installation within the centre itself where shoppers could hear from autistic people, their families and our staff. We ended the month running a stall and bringing our Acceptance Month installation to Woodside Ferry Market in Wirral. www.autismtogether.co.uk/autismacceptance-month/



Wirral Coastal Walk The Wirral Coastal Walk is returning this summer and you can book to take part on behalf of our charity. Autism Together always has a great turn out at this popular event, and it's sure to be very popular in 2022 after its enforced absence during the pandemic. This year's event takes place on Sunday, 22nd May, from the new starting position of New Brighton's Floral Pavilion. The route takes walkers south along the wonderful Wirral coastline, all the way to Thurstaston Country Park - a distance of 12.5 miles. If you'd like to take part this year, and raise money for Autism Together, simply follow the link below to the Wirral Coastal Walk website and sign up to walk on our behalf: www.wirralcoastalwalk.org. Once you've signed up, please get in touch with our Fundraising Team to let us know you are taking part and we can send out sponsorship forms and t-shirts for everyone who is walking. Email: fundraising@autismtogether.co.uk. Tickets to enter are £5 per adult and £1 per child (aged 10 and under). The event is both family and pooch friendly, and you can finish at 4 or 7 miles, so it's a great way to get the kids involved in raising money for Autism Together. We will be there on the day to celebrate with you all at the finish line, so do come and say hello.

A new cycling challenge... 18

Last year, Michael Ellsworth completed a long-distance bike ride to raise funds for Autism Together. Inspired by his young son Leon, who had recently received an autism diagnosis, Michael raised over £1,800. So, this year Michael planned another testing 100-mile fundraiser, but with this route he added in hill climbs with at least 1,000ft greater elevation. This would really test his stamina and endurance limits. However, he did not take on the challenge alone, with some close friends and family - Gary Williams, Matthew Concanon, and

Gary Bywater - along for the ride. Michael said beforehand: "This challenge will not only challenge me physically but is helping me mentally come to terms with Leon’s diagnosis, and what support myself and others can give him." The circular route began and ended in Crewe, travelling into Staffordshire and then climbing into moorland with Damebridge, Biddulph and Mow Cop, where the riders re-entered Cheshire and traveled through miles of town and countryside until reaching Crewe. Michael and his fellow riders received great support on their successful ride raising over £3,000 for Autism Together. Huge thanks to all involved in the challenge!


Calder Kids donation The staff at Calder Kids in Liverpool have made a fantastic donation to our services. The charity and playground was unfortunately forced to close its operations recently, and rather than seeing their furniture and apparatus go to waste, the mum of one of the people we support, Nicky Johnston (also the chair of Calder Kids), got in touch to offer some of the equipment to Autism Together. The team from Raby Gardens thought their all-weather play equipment would be perfect for our outdoor areas, where they could be placed for the people we support to enjoy them. Plus there were craft items, desks, tables, softplay furniture and much more besides. Some of the staff at Calder Kids had worked with a number of the people we now support in CVS and they gave a real insight into what they were like growing up and the work they did with them before they came into our services. It's a real shame Calder Kids' service has had to come to a stop, but it's good to know this equipment will continue to be enjoyed by the people we support for years to come.

Back in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, we relaunched our Amazon Wishlist. The subsequent lockdowns saw a huge disruption to everyday routines for the people we support, so we asked them and our support teams to choose our wishlist items. They could be things that were useful, or just plain fun. Of course, our wonderful supporters responded brilliantly. In fact, during the past two years we have received over £10,000 worth of donations through our Amazon Wishlist. Simply wonderful! Thank you to each and every one of you who chose a gift for the people we support. Our wishlist is still going strong and we've recently added new items. To purchase a gift for the people we support, We’re s please visit: o www.tinyurl. gratefu com/ for all y l 2p9yar6m our



MAY 22nd Wirral Coastal Walk

SEPTEMBER 5 -11th Remember A Charity In Your Will Week


DECEMBER Christmas grottos, plus cards and gifts 19


Autism Together is one of the country’s leading providers of services and support to autistic people and their families. We campaign on behalf of all people affected by autism, we encourage our supporters to get involved with fundraising and volunteering and offer comprehensive training and job development to our employees. We work with businesses across the region, providing autism awareness and acceptance training through our award-winning Autism Training & Advisory Service, and offer a range of advice services to families, carers and autistic people.

Our Services

We support around 400 autistic people. Our Residential Services offer registered residential care in a range of housing across the North West. Community & Vocational Services (CVS) provide training, work experience and valuable life skills for autistic adults. Our Supported Living team supports individuals to increase their independence. ENVELOPE admissions@autismtogether.co.uk

Workshops and courses

We host regular autism-related events and training opportunities for families, individuals and employers. These include our autism advice sessions, and workshops where families, carers and autistic people can get advice and support. Since the pandemic we offer these services in person or online, to suit the individual. ENVELOPE training@autismtogether.co.uk

Children and Family service

Our Children & Family Service aims to provide a range of family support, including activity clubs for children on the autism spectrum. We offer one-toone, autism-specific support for children, siblings and families, either within the community or in their own homes, along with activity clubs for young people. ENVELOPE cfs@autismtogether.co.uk

Join our team

We are one of the largest employers in Wirral, specialising in providing support to autistic people. We offer full, paid training, a competitive salary and extensive benefits package. We want to meet enthusiastic individuals to help us provide excellent care to the people we support, at locations across Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales. ENVELOPE recruitment@autismtogether.co.uk

Please donate and help us provide vital support for autistic people. Either scan with your phone or go to our website...

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