JOBS as a hairdresser, seamstress, teaching assistant and call centre worker … Angela Crosby had done them all in the 22 years since she left school.

But one thing Angela hadn’t considered was working with autistic individuals until she got made redundant in 2010 and applied for a job as Programme Support Assistant at the North East Autism Society.

“I couldn’t quite believe I got the job. It was a totally different direction,” she says.

I know it sounds corny but I really should have done this a long time ago.

Angela is now Senior Programme Support Worker for Adult Day Services, which provides tailor-made vocational and social programmes for autistic and/or neurodivergent adults.

She uses a lot of the skills acquired in her previous life to support creative activities at the Number 24 centre in Sunderland and the running of the NEAS retail store half a mile away in Derwent Street.

At Number 24, the individuals make things to be sold in the store, including card toppers, cushions and decorated plant pots. Then they take them to Derwent Street, package them, put them on display and run the store.

Angela says: “The day at the retail shop is the full experience. We’re serving, taking the money, doing the checks. What we make at Number 24, we can see where it goes.

“It’s great when a member of the public comes in. The interaction and banter is wonderful.”

Other activities at Number 24 include gardening, prepping and cooking meals, and using the newly-installed outdoor gym. All are aimed at enabling individuals to develop essential work and independent skills and to promote health and wellbeing.

It’s a busy schedule, but Angela says her best days are the quietest.

The less I’ve done, the more the individuals have done. I might have only had to give verbal prompts and watch them build their confidence.

She even relishes the days when things don’t go to plan. “That’s just as much fun, seeing what’s happening,” she says.

“I love it. From the day I started 12 years ago to now, I’m just as enthusiastic about the job.”

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