Thornbeck College

Thornbeck College is an Independent Specialist College providing personalised programmes to autistic and neurodivergent individuals

Working together to inspire, support, celebrate and equip autistic and neurodivergent people to fulfil their potential in life.

INDEPENDENCE is the biggest thing that Thomas Ingram has gained since enrolling at Thornbeck College in September 2018, says mum Nancy Milburn.

The 20-year-old is now in his fourth year at the Newton Aycliffe-based college and Nancy says he is thriving, both at college and in his personal life.

From increased confidence, to improved communication and independent living skills, Nancy says the college has equipped Thomas with all the tools he needs to move into the next stage in his life – which she hopes may be volunteering or employment in a supported capacity.

“He’s doing brilliantly – and that’s because of the grounding that Thornbeck has given him,” Nancy says. “It has given him a great foundation to work from. We are very happy.”

Having initially completed the Independent Living educational pathway, Thomas now attends the college two days per week and engages in sessions such as social enterprise and living skills, as part of Thornbeck’s Skills for Living programme.

“He was already in the children’s short breaks so that made the transition easy as he knew the site,” Nancy says.

The staff are great and what we noticed immediately was how well they communicate with each other, as well as with Thomas and the other learners.

“I was really impressed because they knew not just about his learning, but his home life too. When things were difficult at home, the college was really supportive without judging.”

As well as attending day services, both at Thornbeck and elsewhere, Thomas also moved into a Supported Living home in September 2020, which has only further increased his independence and self-confidence.

“The dynamic wasn’t right at home, and it just felt like the right time for Tom,” Nancy adds. “As a parent, it was really hard for me to let go, but it was the best decision.

That is his home now - he has his own independent life and he seems happy with everything.

Nancy credits the staff at Thornbeck with helping to navigate the transition, as the staff, including Principal Nicola Brown and Quality Manager Nicola Dunn, were involved throughout the entire process.

She says: “Supported living came at the right time for Thomas, and the way that Thornbeck College, social services and our family all worked together made it a really smooth transition.”

As part of his studies, Thomas has completed work placements at his local Tesco supermarket, the Bowes Railway in Gateshead and RSPB Saltholme. And, with Covid restrictions easing, Nancy is hopeful these opportunities will open up again.

“Work experience really changed things for Tom - it helped his confidence,” Nancy adds.

“He really enjoyed his time at Tesco, he was doing really well and would go to the manager if he had any issues or questions.”

Find out more about Thornbeck College's impact