DiversityNE is part-funded
by the European Social Fund and North of Tyne Combined Authority.

'Growing the power and potential of a neurodiverse workforce'

Harris Roxborough (above, far right) searched for years for a job that played to her strengths – and has finally found it at the Tyne Tunnels operator, thanks to the employability scheme DiversityNE.

Harris, 32, who is autistic, works at TT2 reviewing pictures from the automatic number plate recognition cameras to check that the vehicle registrations they pick up are matched to the payment made by the customer, helping to ensure tolls are paid.

“It's a lot of staring at number plates all day but I find it fun and satisfying,” says Harris, who lives in Wallsend. “And due to seeing so many images in a day, I can spot patterns others may not and therefore bring up any problems to a manager that may need to be sorted out.

“A lot of my colleagues have told me that they could not do my job as long as I do. I find that my greatest strength.”

Harris had been out of steady work for years when she was referred to DisabilityNE, a scheme run by North East Autism Society and Azure Charitable Enterprises which is aimed at reducing the disability employment gap.

Employment Specialist Gary Hankinson helped her secure the TT2 job.

Gary didn’t give up until I was given a chance, and therefore I wouldn’t have the job I do now without him.

Tyne Tunnels made sure its work environment was suitable for neurodivergent staff before Harris joined. A sensory review of the workplace was carried out by NEAS Employment Futures and all employees had autism awareness training.

Sophie Hannah, Tyne Tunnels marketing manager, adds: “We offer a quiet room for all employees if they need time out. We allow employees to listen to music or podcasts to block out surrounding noise. 

“We understand with our autistic colleagues that routine is very important; to support this we have allocated a set desk space and allow them to plan their own breaks and lunches."

Following the success of Harris and another autistic colleague, Tyne Tunnels have now appointed two more neurodivergent employees to a similar role and says they are flourishing.

Agnes Schooling, quality assurance lead, says: “The benefits we receive from having a neurodiverse workforce is their ability to process information and their attention to detail, as they bring a hyperfocus to complex tasks.

Productivity and work quality is of a high standard, resulting in fewer errors being made in a task that is a pivotal role to the company.

Harris, who met North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll (above) when he visited DiversityNE, passionately agrees that neurodivergent people have a lot to offer organisations if they take care to accommodate them as Tyne Tunnels has.

“I would hope other employers would see neurodivergence as an asset rather than a nuisance. We may need extra help in some areas, but we can also do things that other people wouldn't be able to, or simply wouldn't enjoy,” she says.

“I find that a happy employee does better work than one that is only there for the money. Allow us to shine, and your business will too.”

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