Watch this space! Hello everyone, It’s evident that we are having to learn to live with the Covid-19 virus, and I want to start this latest blog update with a big thank you for the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve had to the vaccination programme. I’m delighted that the vast majority of our staff have elected to be vaccinated as the most effective way of keeping themselves and those they care for safe. I’m grateful to those employees, and to everyone who has helped us to spread the word so positively. Managers have mounted a concerted campaign to reassure everyone, including ethnic minority groups and pregnant women, about the importance of the vaccinations, and to provide them with all the relevant information at our disposal. However, there is no hiding from the fact that the clock is ticking for the small minority of employees who have so far chosen not to have the vaccine. Government legislation comes into force on November 11, requiring all residential care workers to be fully vaccinated, unless they are medically exempt and, to hit that deadline, first vaccinations need to be done by September 16. There are now only six care workers out of the 870 employed by the North East Autism Society who have not been jabbed. That is an overwhelmingly positive response, but the Government’s deadline is something that is non-negotiable. My very clear view is that vaccinations are the best route we have out of the biggest public health crisis in a generation. However, even if that wasn’t my personal and professional opinion, I would still have no choice but to comply with the law. We should also remember that this legislation will apply to anyone who goes into a care home as part of their duties. For example, that includes maintenance staff, as well as employees from other parts of the organisation. And there is a growing feeling that the legislation could be extended. The other day, I was listening to a debate on BBC Radio 4, in which there was informed speculation that other employees in the health and care sector will soon be included in the edict. Another important consideration is that children are now going back to school and, based on the experience of Scotland – where pupils have already been back for two weeks – there is every likelihood that we will see another surge in infections. However, while infections have soared north of the border, hospitalisations are not following the same pattern – and that has to be because of the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. I know full well how lucky the North East Austism Society is to have some of the most dedicated, caring staff to be found anywhere in the country, and the last thing I want is to be left with no choice but to terminate anyone’s contract. Of course, we will take into account any medical exemptions and, if you are in any doubt whatsoever, you should talk to your manager. Otherwise, my heartfelt plea is to please get your vaccinations in time – for your own sake, that of your family, and those you care for so expertly. WHILE completing the vaccination programme has been at the top of the agenda, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a highly significant and rewarding period in our history. We are pressing on with some exciting developments as part of our expansion across the region. For example, I’ve paid a number of visits to Stockton recently and I’m delighted with the progress of the Kiora Hall school development. The building is every bit as good as I hoped it would be, and it’s on schedule to be ready just after Christmas, so it can start taking in children in the New Year. Meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to the official opening of The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre, at South Bank, on October 22, by which time pupil numbers will have risen from 16 to 30. As I’m sure you know, the school was named after the Middlesbrough-born, internationally acclaimed artist and I’m thrilled that we will have the man himself performing the opening ceremony. While planning these key developments, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed liaising with officials from the local authorities in Stockton and Redcar & Cleveland. They are totally committed to doing what’s right and have been brilliant at coming up with solutions all the way along the line. It makes life so much easier when you are working with people whose hearts and minds are in the same place, and I’m sure that, over time, it will lead to further growth of the services we provide on Teesside. Watch this space, as they say! I CAN’T let this update pass by without saluting a hardy band of 16 staff and supporters who completed the 160-mile Tyne Confluence Sportive bike ride. By pedalling from Bradon Mill to Tynemouth, via Kielder Water, they raised the magnificent sum of £6,000. Many thanks to our sponsors for making it happen: Gama Systems; Slip Tip; Activa; Premier Modular; Cleardata; PWA; Cadman Associates; Almasty; and Cyclefix. In the same way that Andy Murray has had to miss on some major tennis events over the past year after having a new hip, I had to stay out of the saddle this year. Time catches up with all us sporting legends eventually! Instead, I was able to watch in awe from the support van as the intrepid 16 rose to the challenge. Hopefully, there’ll be no such excuses for yours truly next year. FINALLY, I am deeply sorry to have to end on a sad note, but I wish to pay tribute to the wonderful Sandra Smith, known as Sassy, who has passed away from cancer. Sassy worked for the Society as a teaching assistant at Aycliffe School for 32 years. During that time, she came to be loved by the children, parents and colleagues. She leaves a huge hole at Aycliffe School, and the wider charity, and my thoughts are with her loved ones.