Hundreds of families affected by autism will benefit from the opening of four new luxury short-break lodges in the North-East. 

EVERYONE needs a break from time to time but imagine what it’s like for someone who needs to care for a loved one round the clock.

With a 22-year-old daughter suffering from severe health problems, Lisa Warren knows better than most what it takes to be a full-time carer.

Her daughter Steph, pictured right, was diagnosed with autism as a child. She has General Anxiety Disorder and Learning Difficulties, and has a special tube to drain fluid from her brain. Having lost much of her mobility over the past six months, she uses a wheelchair and Rollator to get around.

Steph is much-loved, sociable, fiercely independent, and is known for a dry sense of humour. However, the impact of her condition on her family has been enormous.

“She doesn’t really sleep so that means our sleep is disrupted too,” says Lisa, who lives in Stanley, County Durham. “Steph’s lovely but caring for her is utterly exhausting.”

Stephanie Warren

Even when Lisa, along with husband Terry and their other daughter, Chelsea, go on their annual holiday, Steph goes with them and the demands of caring for her continue.

But thanks to the pioneering North East Autism Society, they are able to relax once a week. That’s when Steph goes to one of two specially-adapted lodges in the countryside at the 77-acre New Warlands Farm vocational training centre, near Edmondsley.

For the past three years, Steph has gone to the farm on Wednesday afternoons, stayed overnight, and enjoyed outings, such as trips to the cinema, pub, bowling alley or seaside. She also likes helping out in the kitchen and has made friends with other autistic people staying at the lodges.

As well as the weekly visits, there are also some weekends when Steph can use the lodges.

She just loves going there and has forged close relationships. For us, it’s been nothing short of a Godsend – we couldn’t do without the rest it gives us.

It means the family can catch-up with what the rest of us take for granted, including a good night’s sleep. Lisa and Terry, who gave up his job as a lorry driver to share full-time caring duties with his wife, can also devote a bit more time to Chelsea.

“Chelsea’s studying at university so she needs our support too,” says Lisa. “We know Steph’s in safe hands, so we can relax and breathe.”

From today, four new bespoke lodges will be opened by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sue Snowdon, alongside the two existing lodges at New Warlands Farm.

The lodges cost more than £800,000 to build, with funding support from Morrison’s Foundation, Sir Jules Thorn Trust, Garfield Weston, and ACT Foundation.

North East Autism Society short break lodges

They were specifically designed to meet the needs of autistic adults, aged 16 and over, or people with learning difficulties. The space was created to take into account sensory differences, with expert staff on hand to make sure guests in the lodges can relax as well as learn independent living skills.

The new lodges have been named after woodland characters in a children’s book, Snowdrop The Spikeshuffler, which was sponsored by the North East Autism Society and illustrated by 19-year-old Jonathan Raiseborough, from Darlington. Jonathan has Asperger’s Syndrome and some of his beautiful illustrations from the book will be cast in wood on the outside of the lodges.

North East Autism Society Chief Executive, John Phillipson, believes the opening of the new lodges represents a great achievement, not just for the Society but for the hundreds of young adults and others in the region who will benefit.

Having time away – or respite as we used to call it – is so important for families. But these lodges don’t just offer a place to go, they provide so much more inside and outside.

Thanks to our amazing fundraising team we have been able to create an environment where our guests can relax, unwind, explore and learn. It’s a place where those using this service can have a break, make friends, enjoy nature and feel a million miles away from everything, while just being a short drive from home.

We hope this will help our local authorities meet the growing demand for such facilities.

Lisa Warren knows just how valuable the new lodges will be, because she’s experienced at first-hand what it means to have a break, even if it is just for a day and night.

It’s impossible to really explain what this is going to mean for families but I do know that the new lodges will change their lives. Having a break really is a Godsend.

To find out more about adults short breaks please call the team on 0191 371 3012 or email [email protected]