A MUSIC festival staged at a school run by an autism charity is set to become an annual event following rave reviews.

AyclifFEST was held for the first time at Aycliffe School – managed by the North East Autism Society (NEAS) – and featured autistic and neurodivergent performers displaying a range of talents.

The headline act was Aukestra, a celebrated North East group of neurodivergent musicians, who had service-users and staff dancing and singing along to rip-roaring set-list.

Earlier, the audience at the school was treated to a brilliant performance by Elf’n Wood, a band made up of NEAS employees and service-users.

The day-long event also featured a silent disco, face-painting, bouncy castles, a ball-pit, photo-booth and arts and crafts to create a happy festival atmosphere.

Sixth-form students also designed special festival t-shirts to raise money for the event as part of a range of fundraising activities.

The festival was the idea of the school’s vice principal, John Hardie, who said: “Our learners don’t get the opportunity to experience some of the things that other young people get to enjoy, and going to a music festival would be intimidating for a lot of them.

AyclifFEST was born out of our determination to put that right, and one of the main aims was to encourage social interaction, which can often be difficult for our students.

“There’s no doubt it’s been a spectacular success, with a real buzz around the school from the start of the day. The most important thing was for everyone to have a great day, and that’s been the case, so the hope is that it can become an annual event.”

Aycliffe School principal Kirsty Carr added: “The school is all about celebrating individuality and it’s been truly amazing to see how much our learners have got out of the event. Seeing the exceptional talent on display has shown them that anything is possible.

We are proud to have a growing music department, with one child being put through their music qualifications this year, and we are planning to develop that next year.

Jak Dixon, who founded Aukestra at Birtley, near Chester-le-Street, said: “It was an honour for us to headline at the first AyclifFEST event and we loved performing to such an appreciative audience. Hopefully, it’s the start of something special.”

 Find out more about Aycliffe School.