Can you recreate history by helping support a new school for autistic pupils in Sunderland?

Readers are urged to recreate history by supporting our new Sunderland Echo appeal to help autistic pupils reach their full potential.

Forty years ago Echo readers kindly raised £25,000 to help the forerunner of the city-founded North East Autism Society (NEAS) buy a derelict building in Thornhill Park, Sunderland, to open its first school.

Now the society is hoping the community will respond again in similar fashion to transform a largely bare play area at the school’s new home in Portland Road, Plains Farm, through our joint All To Play For campaign.

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A jungle bridge, roundabouts, swings and slides are among the sensory equipment NEAS wishes to purchase to provide youngsters with stimulation as well as to help them with their balance.

Thornhill Park School headteacher Christine Cave, far left, and chief executive John Phillipson, far right, with pupils, from left, Isaac, Callum and Zac in the play area they are hoping to transform.

The £25,000-plus adventure playground would also be used as an incentive to help pupils aged five-19 focus on their learning.

NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said: “Forty years ago the people who started this school said they could not have done it without the people of Sunderland and the Sunderland Echo.

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“Cricket clubs, social clubs, pigeon fanciers, churches and groups of punks all got involved to play their part.

“The whole idea became synonymous with the Sunderland Echo and it would be wonderful if the city could help these pupils achieve their potential again 40 years later.”

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Thornhill Park School's headteacher Christine Cave and North East Autism Society chief executive John Phillipson in the play area they hope Echo readers will help transform.

Sunderland Echo editorial director Joy Yates added: "Our 1980 campaign to help the society buy the original Thornhill Park School caught the hearts and minds of our readers.

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"It also showed the value of local newspapers in rallying communities to support worthy causes on their doorstep.

"It would be fantastic if the city could support the Echo's new All To Play For campaign with the North East Autism Society in 2020 and help pupils at the new Thornhill Park School to reach their potential."

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What is autism? Your questions answered

The new Thornhill Park School, in Plains Farm, Sunderland.
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The school, which caters for pupils from across the region, moved around a mile from its previous three-storey Thornhill Park home at the end of January.

Its new premises on the site of a former educational unit have been modernised to allow it to increase its capacity from 45 to 75 young people.

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Headteacher Christine Cave said: “It is a joy to hear and see pupils playing together and alongside one another in the playground and gym.

“This move has opened up learning opportunities for all pupils. Specialist rooms are accessible to all pupils and all age groups are accommodated for.”

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The Echo has launched its All To Play For campaign to help Sunderland's Thornhill Park School.

Pupils would help to design the new playground and Mrs Cave added: “A play area is certainly part of helping pupils achieve their potential as we can watch and learn from them enjoying themselves and see their strengths develop.”

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Thornhill Park School will be officially opened on Friday, March 13, by Sunderland Central Labour MP Julie Elliott, who supported the society’s bid to buy the building.

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Mr Phillipson said: “It is not just the equipment itself we need to fund but the fittings.

“It has to be fully fitted and sunk properly into the ground by certified builders of play equipment so that it meets health and safety standards and be of a quality where it will benefit pupils for years to come.”

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He added: “You have autistic pupils who need stimulation and you want them to experience this in the right environment so they are not looking for it while they are doing maths.”