ALTHOUGH he had worked with autistic people in secure units in the North-east, Grainger Simpson had never seen anything like what was on offer at the North East Autism Society when he came for interview 18 years ago.

“In my work trial, I worked with autistic people and I saw a product made from start to finish. I saw engagement in the community, and it completely hooked me,” Grainger says.

He joined NEAS as a Programme Support Worker in 2004 and worked in a variety of roles before becoming Operations Manager for Adult Day Services.

Honestly, I have never looked back. Eighteen years have gone in the blink of an eye.

Adult Day Services offers a huge range of programmes and activities built around the needs of each individual, from independent living skills to woodwork, and even producing the Society’s own brand of apple juice and cider.

The programmes take place at New Warlands Farm training centre, set within 77 acres of County Durham countryside, as well as Number 24 and Emsworth in Sunderland.

Grainger’s job is hugely varied, but the guiding principle of his career with NEAS has been the same thing that first hooked him at his interview – helping people to learn new skills, enjoy real-life experiences and develop.

“It’s an ever-changing programme,” Grainger says. “If someone wants to do floristry, we will adapt a session to bring floristry in, because that’s one way of learning and it’s a way of developing that person.”

It’s one of the joys of working at NEAS that Programme Support Workers who have particular skills or interests are encouraged to share them as part of their role, and can receive further training to do so.

And it’s not just the young people and adults who are learning, but employees too. Grainger, who left school at 15 and joined NEAS at 47, has since graduated from college and is grateful for the training he’s received. 

My life has changed many fold with the Society so I have a lot to thank it for.

His advice to anyone considering a career with NEAS is not to be discouraged thinking they may not have the necessary skills. “It’s how you are inside. If you’re a caring person and you want to make a change, you can,” he adds.

On top of that, new staff will receive training every step of the way, starting with a five-day induction programme that includes autism and neurodiversity training, first aid and safeguarding. “You do all of this before you actually go into the role, and when you start the role that’s when your real training starts,” Grainger says.

“I would encourage anybody if they’re looking for a position in the Society to please go for it. Because I’ve never regretted it.”

View our current vacancies