AUTISTIC children in the North-East are to be treated to a fun evening at a soft play area thanks to the efforts of two big-hearted schoolgirls.

Emilie Jennings, 12, and Lauren Ford, 13, chose to support the North East Autism Society (NEAS) as part of their participation in the Young Leaders Award scheme run by the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust.

The pupils at All Saints Academy, in Ingleby Barwick, on Teesside, raised £420 for NEAS by organising a raffle supported by more than 30 local businesses.

The money will be used to arrange an exclusive evening at a soft play area in Stockton, attended by families from toddler groups run by NEAS in Thornaby and Billingham, along with pupils from the charity’s Kiora Hall School, at Norton, and other families from the area.

The girls sent messages, via email and social media, to businesses in the local area, and then went round collecting donated prizes.

Emilie, whose eight-year-old brother, Ayden, is autistic, said: “The North East Autism Society was a cause really close to our hearts, so we’re really proud to have raised so much money.”

Lauren, who also has an autistic family member, added: “We thought we might raise £200 so to more than double that is brilliant. We couldn’t believe how many businesses responded.”

NEAS fundraising officer Jon Appleton said: “Thanks to Emilie and Lauren, autistic children in their local area will have a fun evening with their families, and we can’t thank them enough for their brilliant efforts.”

Alex Marklew, Head of Religious Education at All Saints Academy, said: “Emilie and Lauren have shown great initiative and they are an inspiration.

They both have family members who are autistic, and they’ve gone out and done something to support a cause that means a lot to them. It’s wonderful how much money they’ve raised.

The Stockton Toddler Groups, run free of charge by NEAS, meet in Thornaby and Billingham every Tuesday, providing invaluable support, advice and information for parents and carers of autistic and neurodiverse children.

The groups enable parents and carers to meet others in a similar situation, direct them to appropriate services, and give their children space to have fun in positive and meaningful activities. There are also toddler groups in Washington and North Tyneside, with the programme offering support for 36 children, and their families.

Find out more about our toddler groups