The North East Autism Society (NEAS) is partnering with creative organisations in the region to launch an innovative new employability and wellbeing scheme for neurodivergent people.

The Empower Works project will offer work placements and skills training with production company Beacon Films and the Gosforth Civic Theatre.

It also has a tie-up with Chilli Studios where participants can create art, crafts, photography and music, exhibit their work, and take part in cultural trips. 

Delivered by NEAS and Azure Charitable Enterprises, the project is funded by the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund through the North of Tyne Combined Authority and is now administered by the North East Combined Authority. 

Only three in 10 autistic people are in work – the lowest of any disability group – and the disability gap is worse in the North East than anywhere else in the country.

NEAS is running a campaign to create 1,000 new employment opportunities for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people in the region to try to overcome the gap.

Empower Works will take on 160 unemployed and economically inactive participants from Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside. They will be able to carry out work placements across the region as well as access the creative partnerships.

Derek Groves, Employability Services Manager at NEAS, said: “It’s well documented that creativity is good for mental wellbeing, but the creative and cultural industries are also a thriving sector where there is growth in the North East. 

So, with Empower Works we’ll be using it as both a therapeutic and a progression opportunity, developing people’s skills while addressing confidence, mental health and wellbeing, and moving them towards employment.

Beacon Films – a production company of disabled and non-disabled filmmakers - will train participants and support them to create a series of mini-documentaries raising awareness about the autistic experience.

Gosforth Civic Theatre, meanwhile, will provide work-based skills training and experience in its café and bar areas with participants working towards qualifications in food safety, customer service and health and safety.

Empower Works is one of two new projects launched by NEAS this spring. The other, called Neurodiversity Employment Service, aims to help 60 economically inactive people in South Tyneside look for work, reduce their social exclusion, or develop life and vocational skills.

Neurodiversity Employment Service is also funded by the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund with South Tyneside as the lead authority.

Both projects are targeted at over-18s who are autistic or otherwise neurodivergent, have learning disabilities or difficulties, or suffer from poor mental health – though they do not have to have a formal diagnosis.

As well as work placements, both schemes offer support around travel training, benefits entitlement, help to access community events or medical appointments, social skills development, and help with CVs, job applications, and interview skills.

Derek said: “We want to meet people, have a chat and find out whether our support matches their needs. It’s not just about whether someone gets a job.

“The benefits check, for example, is very important. Recent research by Policy in Practice pointed to £23billion a year in unclaimed benefits – people don’t know what they’re entitled to or how to go about claiming it, and we can support them with that.” 

Employers who take part in the schemes will receive training in supporting neurodivergent staff, inclusive recruitment, making reasonable adjustments, and accessing government funding.

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