Active charity group lands national prize

Lesley Hutchinson, Mary Swan, Helen Sutherland, Claire Wilce and Karen Swain.
Lesley Hutchinson, Mary Swan, Helen Sutherland, Claire Wilce and Karen Swain.

A north Northumberland charity group has scooped a national award less than two years after its formation.

The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) North Northumberland Branch won branch of the year at the charity’s Staff and Volunteer Awards 2017, for which there were more than 150 entries.

Two years ago, there was next to nothing for families with autistic children in the area, but the group now has more than 110 members.

The formation of this branch, which meets at Bell View in Belford, was in direct response to the lack of support, information and facilities in the area for parents and carers with children on the autistic spectrum.

Self-funded, they operate as a voluntary group, run by a committee of 10 with Helen Sutherland of Ross Farm, near Belford, as its chairman.

“This is a huge honour and we are all delighted, but more importantly it puts Northumberland on the map and gives us a larger voice for the future,” she said.

Despite the short time since the North Northumberland Branch launched, it is certainly active and progressive. They offer monthly support groups and twice-termly workshops with different speakers, in Belford, and twice-monthly craft groups in Wooler, run by one of the autistic adult members.

The group also organises and funds half-termly occupational clinics for members run by Liz Ann Davidson, a qualified occupational therapist.

In April last year, the branch applied for a grant from NAS, funded by the National Garden Scheme, to create a Sensory Garden at Howick Hall Gardens, with kind permission of Lord and Lady Howick.

The next support group and AGM will be held on Tuesday, 9.30am to 11.30am, at Bell View, Belford.

Helen added: “We all work together very closely; everyone who is part of this branch really does feel supported. Our group sessions are growing and we really would be delighted to see anyone at our AGM, who is interested in hearing more about what we do and the events that we organise on both a regular one- off basis.”

Anyone interested to know more is invited to head along or contact Helen Sutherland at the branch on 07825 192865 or email NASNorthNorthumberlandBranch@nas.org.uk