Hello again everyone,

I want to start this latest instalment of my blog with a quote that was posted on Instagram by television presenter Caroline Flack a year before she tragically took her own life in 2020: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” she wrote.

It’s a sentiment that’s been on my mind a lot lately because I’ve been increasingly concerned about the rise of racism, hate crime, and general intolerance in society.

We live in the age of social media and, though it has many benefits, it also has a downside that isn’t being adequately policed. It’s, therefore, something we all have a duty to tackle as individuals and as organisations.

Here at NEAS, we celebrated Black History Month in October, and I saw some excellent work taking place in our schools, with eminent black figures being celebrated for their contributions in every sphere imaginable, including music, culture, food and science.

It inspired me to want to carry on the theme of tolerance and kindness through a calendar of events, starting with World Kindness Day on November 13. It’s an opportunity for us to place even greater emphasis on random acts of kindness all around us.

Our festive theme this year is “All I Want For Christmas”. It’s designed to promote key messages, including the need for autism acceptance; opening up more routes into employment for autistic and neurodiverse people; improving educational opportunities; and providing respite for families.

There will be many more opportunities to promote kindness as the new year unfolds and my promise is that NEAS will be placing more emphasis than ever on the importance of kindness – and making it clear that any acts of prejudice or intolerance are dealt with quickly and severely.

Football fans – not least those, like me, who follow Newcastle United – will know all too well that it’s easier to accept defeat when you know your team has tried hard.

It may not be possible to stamp out every hateful act in society but, here at NEAS, we’ll certainly be trying hard to play our part.

ON the subject of Christmas, our marketing and fundraising teams have come up with a cracker of a programme of fundraising events, including the Christmas Market at New Warlands Farm on November 27, the Great Christmas Bake-off on December 3, and Jolly Jumper Day on December 10.

There’s also a wide range of merchandise in our online shop that would make great Christmas presents.

All the proceeds from the Christmas campaign will go towards youth programmes provided by the Society’s family support team, so please join in the fun, knowing that you’ll be supporting a great cause at the same time. You can find out more on our website at www.ne-as.org.uk.

I think the event I’m looking forward to most is the Great Christmas Bake-off because I often get asked to do taste-tests on the cakes. Mind you, that’s not always good news when it comes to Jolly Jumper Day a week later!

AS you all know, we are in an exciting era of expansion at NEAS, with the board of trustees backing our ambitious plans to increase our reach and help more people than at any time in our history.

I’m thrilled by the progress that’s being made on Teesside towards the opening of our new school, Kiora Hall, in partnership with Stockton Borough Council.

I’ve been visiting the building regularly and it’s a joy to see it coming together. Thornbrook Construction have proved to be first-class partners and they are confident the building will be ready on schedule. The official handover deadline is January 21 but they hope the work will be completed by Christmas.

What I find really uplifting is the way the refurbishment of a disused but historic old building has breathed new life into the local community. The vast majority of trades people and labourers working on the project have been recruited locally, and we are in the midst of constructive talks about how the building can be opened up for wider community use.

Meanwhile, our first school on Teesside, The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre, at South Bank, recently celebrated its first anniversary, and what a fantastic job Tracey Train and her team have done.

The school opened with just three pupils and, by Christmas, that will have increased to 30, and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that has had on local families.

I started with a quote, so I’ll end with one. It comes from the mother of a little girl called Sophia, who is one of the pupils at The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre: “Sophia’s got her sparkle back. We can see the light in her eyes. She used to find going to school difficult, but now she skips to the door every morning.”

That’s the power of kindness.