DAD-OF-TWO Gary Veitch describes himself as a “lad’s lad” who worked in factories all his life, coming home every night covered in oil and grease.

But when he was made redundant in his 40s, he surprised himself by building a new career as a care worker and forging a strong friendship with the autistic men he supports.

Gary, now 55, helps 33-year-old Kane and 30-year-old Stewart to live in their own homes on the beautiful New Warlands Farm site in County Durham run by the North East Autism Society.

He first met them when he joined the Society in 2010 and has been working with them ever since. He says: "Stewart was only 18 when I met him, and he has come on so much since then. He’s doing great, and we have a strong bond.

"And Kane and I get on really well. His face lights up when he sees me, and we always have a bit of banter."

Gary adds: "I was a metal polisher by trade and had always worked in factories. I was a lad’s lad – lots of tattoos, always at the gym.

I would never have thought in a million years that I would be doing a care job, but here I am! It’s a really good job and I’m glad I made the decision to join.

Gary lost his job when Pyrex closed its Sunderland plant.  A chance meeting with an old friend, whose partner worked at the North East Autism Society, led to him doing a work trial at the charity and getting a job as a care support assistant.

He is now a key worker for its Independent Supported Living service, helping Kane and Stewart to live as fulfilling a life as possible. They go walking in places like Keswick and Roseberry Topping, out for pub meals, and swimming and bowling. He and Stewart also go on holiday twice a year.

While Gary loves being out and about, it’s often the little breakthroughs at home that makes his job so rewarding, like Stewart getting himself ready in the morning or doing his own laundry.

 "When you go home after something like that, you think “I’ve had a good day’,” he says. “It gives you a real lift. It’s all about perseverance and building trust."

Stewart’s mum Debbie says the pair are firm friends. "They’ve known each other for a long time, and Gary makes things fun and enjoyable for Stewart. It makes Stewart’s quality of life very good – he’s so happy and content.

"The care workers are like an extended family. We genuinely care about each other."

Kane's mum Julie adds: "Gary and the care staff treat Kane like one of their own - they're just like family."

Gary had no experience with autism or care work before he joined NEAS, and he worried that he wouldn’t be up to it.

When I was told the scope of the job, I thought it wasn’t for me. When I tried it, I realised I could do it and what’s more, I really took to it.

"You do an induction with the Society, you do training, you get mentored, and you get better and better at it. My daughter is now with NEAS too, working in residential care." 

As NEAS launches a major recruitment drive because of rising demand for its services, Gary’s advice to others looking for a job or change in career is "don’t judge, just try it."

The North East Autism Society was founded 42 years ago by a group of parents who set up a school in Sunderland for their autistic children. It now employs more than 1,000 staff across residential care, supported living, short breaks, education, social and vocational training, employability and family support.

Stewart has been supported by the charity since he was 15, and mum Debbie says: "We are very fortunate in this region to have a Society which really understands autism. We’ve all seen the devastation when people don’t get the right care."

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