NICOLE Dowell grew up watching her mum working for the North East Autism Society and loving her role.

So it was no surprise when Nicole herself joined the Society as a Programme Support Worker after graduating from a sports degree in Leeds and returning to Sunderland.

My mam has worked for NEAS for 35 years on the residential care side, so I knew what it had to offer. I’ve loved every minute since joining.

Nicole is now Programme Manager at Number 24 in Sunderland, delivering person-centred adult day services including vocational activities and independent living skills.

These include horticulture, maintenance, helping to run the shop on Derwent Street, visiting local landmarks, cycling, swimming, handling money and preparing meals.

As Programme Manager, Nicole manages staff and timetables for the 25 adults that access the services. “Communication and working as a team are key,” she says.


A typical day at Number 24 starts at 8.30am with planning. Nicole’s team of Programme Support Workers then run a full day of social and vocational activities including outings to access the local community, arts and crafts, horticulture and independent living skills. Staff spend the last half an hour planning for the next day.

Each day is different and the days just fly by. You get to see people develop, grow independent living skills and enjoy themselves. It’s really, really rewarding.

To become a Programme Support Worker,  applicants don’t always need to have professional qualifications or autism-related experience. Instead, transferable skills including teamwork and communication are important.

New staff get a week-long induction that includes autism and neurodiversity training, first aid and safeguarding. When they go on site, they continue with e-learning courses under the supervision of a mentor.

Nicole says: “When we look for Programme Support Workers, we look for someone who wants to see a difference in someone’s life and who is passionate about what they do.”

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