Planting the seeds of change for young people with autism
Autism Life Centres, based in Rhondda, formed after a group of families realised there was a need for a specific provision for young adults with autism in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT). They have been supporting young people that live with complex Autism and other learning disabilities since 2015.
We spoke to Amanda Evans, Executive Director at Autism Life Centres about their work, adapting to COVID-19, as well as their £9,900 National Lottery Awards for All grant to help them develop Time to Grow. The Time to Grow project is an allotment-based project that is being delivered thanks to support from the local community.
Making a difference for young people
“Our service users have quite complex needs and we provide a bespoke service where adults with autism attend to expand their life skills and increase their independence. We started off running all sorts of activities for people, including accessible cycling and swimming. Recently we secured a large allotment which provides opportunities for work experience and skills development.
The reason we started the organisation was that families were concerned there wasn’t any specific provision for young adults with autism in our area.”
Helping the environment and working through COVID-19
With an understanding of what was most important to their community, and with pandemic restrictions beginning to ease, Autism Life Centres successfully applied for a National Lottery Awards for All grant to continue developing their project.
“We’ve been so excited to get started on our Time to Grow allotment project. We are giving the young adults we work with the experience of doing something positive for themselves, their community, and their local environment. It’s been very positive for their wellbeing to be able to go outside, and to be able to grow, harvest, and cook the food that’s being grown at the allotment.
One of the great things about growing your own food is that it’s a fantastic way to be environmentally friendly. We try to be as conscious of the environment as we can. For example, we create our own compost for our allotment and at our centre we have planted wildflower turf. It’s not all about the big things that you can do but also the small things that small groups like ours can do.
The last year has been a real challenge for our young people, and it has been such a positive thing to be able to get started on our Time to Grow project. We’re very grateful that we’ve been able to access outdoor space to help with wellbeing of our service users and staff, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure that we could keep running our service, we hired an extra site to work from in order to meet social distancing guidelines.
We run a key service for our members, and it’s been important for them and their families that we adapt our work to ensure that our service continues to be available and accessible to them. All of our service users really needed our support, and we felt that being able to continue what we were doing was vitally important for them. It has been challenging over the last year but staff have worked really hard to make it work, and we’re proud with what we have achieved.
The National Lottery grant that we’ve been awarded will help expand our work by enabling us to recruit a horticultural project co-ordinator. We’re delighted to receive it and to be able to continue making a positive difference for our service users and their families. We’re looking forward to being able to continue developing our work on the allotment.”
Support from the local community
Getting support from the local community has been a key aspect of developing the Time to Grow project, but Autism Life Centres has also made use of the support available to them from outside Rhondda Cynon Taf. Amanda explains more:
“We’ve had a lot of advice from groups such as Social Farms and Gardens, Keep Wales Tidy and Renew Wales. The local Men’s Sheds have helped us as have Welcome to Our Woods – we’ve really been lucky to form links with all these groups thanks to Interlink, the local county voluntary council. There’s something about the Rhondda that fosters an amazing community spirit and it’s been fantastic to get to know more about what’s happening around us. Local residents have provided help and advice at our allotments too – there’s an incredibly friendly and supportive local community.
The advice from Keep Wales Tidy and Renew Wales has also been invaluable to us to help develop our work – a lot of this is new to us and we’re extremely grateful that environmental and local organisations can provide that support for groups like ours. We have also received separate grants that have helped us make the allotment site safe for our service users.
Over the next 12 months we’d like to see more growth on our allotment work and our outdoors work as a whole.”
Autism Life Centres CIC received a grant of £9,900 from The National Lottery Community Fund for a Project Co-ordinator to steer their Time to Grow allotment project. They will provide further support to develop their allotment projects which provides work experience for individuals with Autism and complex needs.
If you would like to find out more about applying for a National Lottery grant to support your community, visit tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding. If you would like to discuss your project idea with your local officer, call us on 0300 123 0735 or email email@example.com.