Sue Snowdon, Lord-Lieutenant of Durham, Gerald Osborne, High Sheriff of Aycliffe and Councillor Wendy Hilary, Mayor of Aycliffe Town Council greeted Her Royal Highness at the centre in Newton Aycliffe.

Her Royal Highness was accompanied by John Phillipson, Chief Executive for North East Autism Society (NEAS) and was given a tour of the £9 million centre. The vision behind the centre that opened in January 2013 was to improve the range of specialist services available across the region for children, young people and adults with autism. The centre houses a new purpose built school, college, short breaks and residential accommodation.

John Phillipson, CEO for NEAS said; “It has been a privilege to welcome The Countess of Wessex to Newton Aycliffe to see the centre and to meet the families that we support. The visit has enabled us to raise awareness about autism, but also demonstrate some of the highly specialist work that we do and the benefits this has on our children and young people.”

Royal visit

The visit was commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque to officially mark the opening of the centre. Two students Georgia Hutchinson, aged 14 from Aycliffe School and Michael Whittaker, aged 20 from Thornbeck College presented Her Royal Highness with gifts. This included a textile picture and a pack of Christmas cards that were handmade by the students.

The facilities at the North East Centre for Autism are designed to ensure it is a calming environment for children and young people to learn and develop their skills. Georgia Hutchinson, aged 14 from Hartlepool started school at the centre in 2013.

Claire Steed, Teacher at NEAS said; “Georgia has made considerable progress in the last year, her communication has vastly improved and she is more confident. Georgia has her own enterprise here in school, has exhibited her textile work in the town hall at Bishop Auckland and sold one of her pieces to the Mayor of Aycliffe. Georgia was delighted when she was given the opportunity to make a textile piece for The Countess of Wessex. Georgia is focussed, ambitious and enjoys her time here.”

Georgia said: “The new school has helped me with my behaviour. At first I did not know how to control my behaviour but I now know if I get anxious or angry I can talk to someone or do some textile work. I find textiles a very good strategy to calm me down. I think my new school has made me a better person.”

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