Sunderland's own Flying Squirrel urges city to back new appeal to help school for autistic pupils
A leading figure in the campaign to open a pioneering school for autistic pupils has thanked Sunderland Echo readers for their “fantastic support” while urging them to support a new appeal.
The Sunderland Echo has joined together with the North East Autism Society (NEAS) to launch our All To Play For appeal to raise at least £25,000 towards the cost of sensory playground equipment at Thornhill Park’s new Plains Farm premises.
The figure is similar to the sum raised by Echo readers back in 1980 when the society’s founders needed the then town’s support to buy its original Thornhill Park home.
From punk rockers to pigeon fanciers, residents defied the economic gloom of the time to smash the target with around £80,000 eventually raised.
Paul Shattock, who was the society’s secretary and an active fundraiser, said: “I’m just so proud of what Sunderland did, the way they rallied round.
“They might not have had much but they gave what they could afford.”
Mr Shattock, now 74, even won Sunderland’s Birdman contest in aid of Thornhill Park by jumping into the River Wear in his Flying Squirrel outfit.
He recalls: “I had visions of myself gliding across the water, but I flew like a shovel. Luckily, the others were even worse.
“When I landed, it was freezing cold and I got a mouthful of sewage and seawater. But it was worth it to win.”
The former pharmacy lecturer joined the growing campaign for a school dedicated to supporting autistic children after his son, Jamie, was diagnosed with the condition at the age of four.
Jamie, now 49, was one of its first pupils with others coming to Sunderland from as far away as Lancashire, Nottingham and Essex because there were so few similar schools elsewhere.
Now Jamie’s father, who still lives in Sunderland and eventually became president of the World Autism Organisation, has urged people across the city to support our joint All To Play For campaign in whatever way they can.
Mr Shattock, who said the Echo was the “most important medium” in backing the 1980 plea, added: “In 2020 the situation has changed. We know a lot more. The difference we can make to the lives of people is immense.
“I would ask you to do it again. Think again about how you did it at the time and then repeat the exercise.”
Among the planned events to support the appeal is the annual Walk for Autism Acceptance at Herrington Country Park on Friday, April 17, at 11am.
Cheques can be made out to the North East Autism Society and addressed to The Fundraising Team, All To Play For Appeal, Thornhill Park School, Portland Road, Sunderland, Tyne/Wear, SR3 1SS.
Online donations can be made via the society’s website at www.ne-as.org.uk/appeal/all-to-play-for.
Registration for the Walk for Autism Acceptance can be made by logging to www.ne-as.org.uk/Event/walk-for-autism2020.
Further information is also available by contacting NEAS on (0191) 4109974.