Families in North Tyneside that are navigating a new autism diagnosis are getting extra support thanks to a longstanding regional charity and a four-figure grant from the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation.

The North East Autism Society has been working to empower and support autistic children, young people, adults and their families for more than

40 years, and supports around 4,500 individuals around the region every year.

The charity is now using a £3,000 grant to set up a new weekly parent and toddler support group at the Riverside Children’s Centre on the Meadow Well Estate in North Shields for families that are either going through or have received an autism diagnosis.

The play-based group, which forms part of the charity’s wide-ranging Family Support service, provides an opportunity for up to ten families at a time to get support and advice on their individual situations, as well as information on what autism is and could mean in practice to their family situation.

The funding is being provided through the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, which offers grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network.

Headquartered in Chester-le-Street, the North East Autism Society was founded in 1980 by a group of parents who wanted to provide a better standard of education for autistic children in the region.

Having first established Thornhill Park School in Sunderland, it now runs five specialist educational facilities around the North East, and also provides residential care, short breaks and supported living services for people of all ages.

Its Family Support service aims to help alleviate some of the pressure that families face by providing community-based care for their loved ones, with support packages tailored to the needs of each individual and their family.

Kevin Meikle, fundraising manager at the North East Autism Society, says: “When families first receive an autism diagnosis for their child, or are going through the assessment process, there will naturally be a lot of questions they want to ask.

“Our Family Support service aims to give them the information they need, as well as to help educate them on the realities of autism, provide opportunities for a break when they need it and chances to speak and listen to other families in the same situation.

“We already run a number of these parent and toddler groups around the region and look to set them up where we see a specific need.

“They provide an extremely useful touchpoint for our experts and families, and also form an important part of the pathway towards a formal diagnosis.

“We don’t receive any statutory funding to run these groups and have to fundraise to cover their running costs, so receiving a lump sum like this from the Society will make a massive difference to how we can help local families who otherwise might not know where to turn.”

Erin Mulligan, people partner at Newcastle Building Society, adds: “The North East Autism Society has a clear practical focus on supporting autistic people and their families to live the fullest and most rewarding lives.

“It has been having a tangible positive impact across our region for more than four decade and we’re very pleased to be able to support this latest project.”

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund at the Community Foundation has also contributed over £2.1m in grants and partnerships to a wide variety of charities and projects across the region, including the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Prince’s Trust.

The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.