When he began volunteering with the then Tyne and Wear Autistic Society, Paul Hindmarsh could not have known he would still be working for the charity four decades later.

“I was here before NEAS,” Paul joked, as he prepared to take retirement after 37 years as part of the Society’s maintenance team, who perform essential work across the charity’s properties.

Originally founded as the Tyne and Wear Autistic Society, the charity rebranded to the North East Autism Society (NEAS) in 2009, to reflect its growth throughout the region.

Growth which Paul was there to witness firsthand, as he started volunteering with the Society just a few years after its foundation.

Paul said:

My wife used to work here beforehand, with the people who started it up, so it was small but getting larger very quickly.

After being made redundant from his job at the time, Paul’s interest in knowing more about autism lead to him volunteering in the classrooms at Thornhill Park School, where they were looking for more men to support the children there.

When Paul found work again he was ‘backwards and forwards’ between jobs and Thornhill Park, but it was through his wife that Paul’s next opportunity with the Society came about.

Paul said: “They found out from my wife that I was a decorator and asked if I could please do some classrooms.”

Paul agreed, as long as the Society provided the paint, and more regular work followed after.

I would go see the managers of the houses and the schools and we’d work it out all out, what we were doing. It worked brilliantly, and it just carried on.

As the Society grew, so did the maintenance team, and Paul has fond memories of past colleagues and managers.

“We all got along great. It was one big, happy family,” Paul said, and his colleagues are inclined to agree.

Bob Richardson, who has managed Paul for over 20 years, said: “Paul’s a good team player, a nice personable lad, and he’s very approachable.

I’ve been managing him for twenty-odd years I’ve never had a bad word with him, he’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.

While he may miss his colleagues, Paul described the staff as one of the best things about working at NEAS, he is looking forward to having more time to pursue his interests in retirement.

Paul said: “I’ve always had hobbies, from radio-controlled aeroplanes, to making knives, to wargaming.”

“And in between all that I’ll be decorating my own house,” Paul added with a laugh.