WORLD-FAMOUS artist Mackenzie Thorpe spoke movingly of his “unbelievable pride” today as he was unveiled as the patron of the North East Autism Society.

Middlesbrough-born Mackenzie will now be working with us, and a new centre is to be named in his honour.

We're marking our 40th anniversary in 2020 and Mackenzie is celebrating his 30th year as a professional artist.

His role with NEAS coincides with an announcement that we are to significantly expand our services into Tees Valley, with the opening of two new centres.

Mackenzie made a special visit to New Warlands Farm, at Burnhope, County Durham, today, meeting adults who access day services, and being given a tour of the training facilities.

He said:

“Being involved with an organisation like this makes me unbelievably proud.

I am behind you one hundred million per cent in every way, and I will be part of your family for as long as I can.”

Mackenzie told staff and other guests how his dyslexia – now recognised as a neurodiverse condition – had led to him being branded lazy and stupid at school.

“Thankfully the world is now waking up to how neurodiverse people think and access the world around them. In so many ways neurodiverse people have unique talents and abilities, and this is what we need to celebrate.

“I don’t always know where I am going but I get there with love and support and that’s what the North East Autism Society does – you give autistic people the tools to take the next step, and that is priceless.”

NEAS chief executive John Phillipson revealed that talks are taking place with two local authorities on Teesside – Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and Stockton Borough Council – about expanding the charity’s services in the New Year.

The plans include opening two new resource bases, which will be used to support children with special needs, and for staff training and development.

One of the new bases will be at the Cooper Centre at South Bank – and Mr Phillipson announced that it is to be renamed “The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre”.

“We have to be really careful that we don’t miss opportunities that stifle people’s potential and one of the attractions of working with Mackenzie is how he refused to allow his creativity to be stifled,”

said Mr Phillipson.

“Mackenzie is known for having a big heart and a passion for his North East roots. His incredible journey is an inspiration to anyone who feels isolated or disadvantaged, and we are thrilled to welcome such an iconic figure as our patron.”

Diane McConnell, interim chief education officer with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, said:

“The partnership we are developing with the North East Autism Society is really exciting and has great potential. There’s such a huge need and having a building named The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre is perfect.”