This week sees the official opening of our new Thornhill Park School in Sunderland.

But thanks to a newly forged partnership with the Sunderland Echo newspaper we’re going back in time.

Forty years ago readers of the paper generously raised £25,000 to help the the North East Autism Society (NEAS) – then the Tyne and Wear Autistic Society - buy a derelict building in Thornhill Park, Sunderland, to open its first school.

Now the Society is hoping the community will respond again in similar fashion to transform a largely bare play area at the school’s new home in Portland Road, Plains Farm, through our joint All To Play For campaign.

A jungle bridge, roundabouts, swings and slides are among the sensory equipment NEAS wishes to purchase to provide youngsters with stimulation as well as to help them with their balance.

The £25,000-plus adventure playground would also be used to help pupils aged five to 19 focus on their learning.

NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said:

Forty years ago the people who started this school said they could not have done it without the people of Sunderland and the Sunderland Echo.

Cricket clubs, social clubs, pigeon fanciers, churches and even groups of punks all got involved to play their part.

The whole idea became synonymous with the Sunderland Echo and it would be wonderful if the city could help these pupils achieve their potential again 40 years later.

Sunderland Echo editorial director Joy Yates added:

Our 1980 campaign to help the society buy the original Thornhill Park School caught the hearts and minds of our readers.

It also showed the value of local newspapers in rallying communities to support worthy causes on their doorstep.

It would be fantastic if the city could support the Echo's new All To Play For campaign with the North East Autism Society in 2020 and help pupils at the new Thornhill Park School to reach their potential.

Online donations can be made via our website at

Cheques can be made out to the North East Autism Society and addressed to The Fundraising Team, All To Play For Appeal, Thornhill Park School, Portland Road, Sunderland, Tyne/Wear, SR3 1SS.