North of of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll has backed the launch of a new project aimed at supporting economically inactive people to look for work, reduce their social exclusion or improve life and vocational skills. 

The new £500,000 project called ProgressNE is being delivered by the North East Autism Society (NEAS) in partnership with Azure Charitable Enterprises, and is funded by the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund with the North of Tyne Combined Authority as the lead authority.

It is aimed at over-18s in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland who are neurodivergent, have learning difficulties or disabilities, or suffer from poor mental health – though they do not need a formal diagnosis.

Mr Driscoll said at the project’s launch: “The work you do is so important. You’re changing people’s lives. You’re saving people’s lives.

“In the North East we have 105,000 people who are unemployed or inactive but want a job. To bring that down we need to create more good jobs, and to put the right training and support in place so the people of the North East can get them. 

If you’ve been out of work for a long time, or you’ve never worked, where do you start? You start here.

The mayor praised the success of the previous project run by NEAS and Azure called DiversityNE, which supported 68 unemployed or economically inactive people to move into work and 59 to go into education or training.

Mayor Driscoll said he’d been inspired by meeting, and hearing the story of, an autistic participant called Harris who had secured a job at Tyne Tunnels operator TT2 through DiversityNE. Harris had developed the confidence to thrive in their new role and the project also helped the employer make small adjustments to better support Harris to succeed. 

“We know there are lots of people like Harris out there, who can succeed when they get the right support,” he said.

"That’s why I really believe in funding projects like this. They work on every level. It’s the right thing to do - there’s no reason we have to leave people behind."

ProgressNE will target “economically inactive” people – individuals who are not in employment and not an active job-seeker. Participants will receive up to a year of one-to-one support tailored to their individual challenges, strengths and aspirations. 

The support on offer can includes travel training, a benefits check to ensure someone is receiving their full entitlement, help to access community events and groups, social skills development, support to access other services such as GP appointments, and help with CVs, job applications, interview skills, and work placements.

Derek Groves, Employment Services Manager at NEAS, said: “It’s not just about whether someone gets a job. It can be about how they move from being socially excluded, quite isolated and within their own home, to engaging with social groups in their local community.

“It can be about how they have moved from not addressing barriers in mental and physical health to getting an appointment with a medical professional or regularly attending support with mental health."

ProgressNE runs until March 2025 and is already taking on participants. For more information, or to sign up, email [email protected] or visit the programme’s contact page at

Find out more about ProgressNE