BUSINESSES have joined forces to help a North-East town become the most autism-friendly place in the country.


Darlington has launched a pioneering partnership with the North East Autism Society (NEAS) to make life easier for people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions.


The campaign is to be formally launched on Thursday, March 7, during Darlington’s inaugural “BookFest” literary festival.


On that day, local schoolchildren will converge on Darlington Library in Crown Street for a series of story-telling workshops featuring young Darlington artist Jonathan Raiseborough, who illustrated the children’s book, Snowdrop The Spikeshuffler.


The book, about a little white hedgehog who overcomes bullying in the wild, has been published with the support of NEAS and Jonathan, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been made an ambassador for the society.


Jonathan’s ambitions to be a children’s book illustrator will be featured on ITV’s ‘This Time Next Year’ television programme, presented by Davina McCall, on March 12.


Meanwhile, Thursday’s school workshops at Darlington Library will feature an exciting guest appearance by Snowdrop, who has been turned into a human-sized mascot for NEAS.


A working group has been established in Darlington to drive the campaign forward and is chaired by Councillor Andrew Scott, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for health.


Darlington Borough Council has made a commitment to roll of autism awareness training to all frontline staff.


A host of businesses and organisations have also pledged their support for the Darlington initiative by agreeing to staff awareness training or taking part in autism-friendly events.


Last year, the Cornmill Shopping Centre launched a monthly “quiet hour” on Sundays for families affected by autism and other neurodiverse conditions. It proved so popular that it became a weekly event.


Other examples of support include Charles Clinkard shoe shop offering “quiet appointments” for autistic customers.


Organisations taking part include: Darlington Borough Council, Darlington Cares, Queen Street shopping centre, Rockliffe Hall, Darlington Building Society, the Dolphin Centre, Boots, House of Fraser, Mercure Darlington Kings Head Hotel, Wilkinsons, Boyes, Guru Boutique, The Keys, Laura Ashley, Vue Cinema, Mangobean, Origins Home and Origins Coffee Bar, Geoff Gillow, Create and Paint, Designer Dog Company, Hatch luncheonette.


Councillor Scott said:

Darlington has set out to become a shining example of the way the needs of people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions are considered. The response from local businesses has been overwhelmingly positive and we are now well placed to build on the momentum ahead of World Autism Awareness Week at the start of April.


NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said:

Darlington is showing the country the way by uniting behind a common goal to make a positive difference to the lives of people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions. We are delighted to be working with such a forward-thinking town.

To find out more about our autism awareness training please call 0191 410 9974 or email [email protected]