Autism charity announces 250 new jobs as demand grows – and thanks Sunderland for 41 years of support

A pioneering charity supporting autistic people and their families has sent out a heartfelt message of thanks to the people of Sunderland for more than 40 years of making a difference.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 6:20 pm

Four decades on, with demand for its services growing, the charity is pressing ahead with a major expansion across the North-East with the creation of 250 jobs, including a significant number of them in Sunderland.

The announcement comes as The Sunderland Echo marks World Autism Week with today’s special edition, produced with the guidance of an autistic guest editor – Ashley Jones.

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North East Autism Society chief executive John Phillipson.

The charity’s chief executive, John Phillipson, said: “The North East Autism Society today employs 860 people, delivering a vast range of services from the Scottish borders to Teesside, and it all started in the cradle of Sunderland.

“The goodwill of the city – from the football club, the university, businesses, and local people – has been fantastic. Sunderland has done us proud.”

The society has grown massively since the original Thornhill Park School was established and, last year, just before pandemic struck, the school moved to a more modern site with capacity for 45 young people.

The charity has kept the school open throughout the lockdown and there are now plans to increase capacity to 80 children once Government restrictions are lifted.

Sunderland Echo guest editor Ashley Jones outside the Echo's offices. Picture by FRANK REID.

Mr Phillipson said: “Against all the odds, the brilliant team at Thornhill Park have kept the doors open and, along with staff across the charity, they have gone the extra mile in hugely difficult circumstances.”

The charity’s expansion includes the creation of two new schools on Teesside, and additional services across the wider region, but Mr Phillipson promised there would also be “heavy recruitment in Sunderland”.

As well as a number of long-established residential homes in Sunderland, many of the charity’s services are based in the city, including the Employment Futures department, which was set up five years ago to help autistic and neurodiverse people on the path towards employment.

As a result of the department’s work with employers and training providers, 324 people will be supported on employment projects in the year ahead.

Thornhill Park School, in Plains Farm, Sunderland, is among the society's services expanding after pupil numbers increased from 45 to 80 since the school moved to its new home in March.

Others have already been found jobs and been supported in sustaining employment during the pandemic.

Mr Phillipson also highlighted the “extremely healthy partnership” between the charity and Sunderland University. That includes autistic and neurodiverse students being supported by NEAS during their time at the university; the charity providing placements for psychology students; and the two organisations linking up for research projects.

He said Sunderland Football Club had also played an important role in helping the charity over the years, along with the local business community, with Sir Peter Vardy a notable supporter.

Today’s special edition, marking World Autism Week, includes an editorial comment by guest editor, Mr Jones, and a letters page dedicated to messages from the families of service-users cared for by NEAS.

There is also an eight-page supplement featuring photographs taken by service-users and staff, showcasing the charity’s work.

For more information about NEAS, go to or call (0191) 4109974.

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