Sunderland Echo appoints guest editor to mark World Autism Week
The Sunderland Echo is teaming up with a pioneering North-East charity to break new ground by appointing an autistic guest editor to mark the start of World Autism Week.
In what is believed to be an industry first, Ashley Jones, 36, who was diagnosed as autistic as an adult, will guest edit the Echo on Tuesday, March 30, ahead of Wednesday’s paper.
Father-of-three Ashley is based in Sunderland, working as a quality manager for the North East Autism Society’s Employment Futures department, which helps autistic and neurodiverse people find employment.
He graduated from Sunderland University in Applied Business Management in 2016 and is now studying in the city for a master’s degree in psychology.
Ashley said: "I am really grateful for the opportunity to be guest editor of a paper like the Sunderland Echo and to raise awareness of the importance of autism acceptance. It's a huge honour and it makes me proud.
"I want to speak with my own words and be heard, delivering a positive message that the differences between us are not that great – and that those differences can be overcome with a bit of understanding.”
The Sunderland Echo and our readers played an important part in establishing the charity 41 years ago by supporting a group of local parents who campaigned to set up the country’s first school for autistic children.
That led to the formation of the Tyne and Wear Autistic Society, which was later renamed as the North East Autism Society (NEAS), with an appeal in the paper raising £25,000 to help organisers buy a derelict building in Thornhill Park, Sunderland, to open their first school.
Sunderland Echo editor Gary Oliver said: “We have very proud historic links with the North East Autism Society and we are delighted to be partnering this hugely important charity in such an innovative way during World Autism Week.
"It will be great to have Ashley’s insight as guest editor and we look forward to his special edition of the paper.”
Ashley has already visited the Echo’s head office under social distancing regulations to meet key staff and get a better understanding of the role.
His responsibilities will include taking part in editorial conference, writing the editorial comment and having an input into the front page.
Wednesday’s edition will also feature an eight-page pullout of photographs taken by NEAS service-users and staff to showcase the vital work of the charity.
The letters page will also be dedicated to messages from the parents of service-users, expressing their support for the charity, and gratitude for the care of their loved ones.
The charity’s chief executive John Phillipson said: “We are delighted to be joining up with the Sunderland Echo on what is an incredibly creative way to highlight the importance of autism acceptance. We are proud to have Ashley representing us as guest editor and we can’t wait to see the historic edition being published.”
An anniversary appeal was launched early last year by the Echo to raise another £25,000 to equip the new Thornhill Park School, in the city’s Plains Farm area, before it was put on hold after the coronavirus outbreak.
We will reopen the campaign as pandemic restrictions ease.
Further details about NEAS are available at www.ne-as.org.uk or by calling (0191) 4109974.