Community NewsGeneral NewsNews

New space opens in Portsmouth for people with autism

By Michelle Monaghan

PORTSMOUTH CITY COUNCIL has created a new space for people with autism called Room One. It’s located at the Charles Dickens Centre. A team of autistic people manages it, and the council describes it as for: ‘autistic and neuro-divergent adults aged over 18 in the PO1 – PO6 area, their family and friends, and the professionals supporting them.’ 

No referrals or diagnosis is needed to use Room One’s services. People using the space can access information, advice and support on referrals, socialising, living independently, and peer support. The team will host regular activities with online and in-person peer support and one-to-one and drop-in sessions.

The great thing about Room One is that two of the facilitators are both neuro divergent and are passionate about creating a welcoming space for autistic adults run by autistic adults. They hope autistic adults in the local community will feel valued and listened to and feel they can reach out and use the space without hesitation or concern. 

According to the NHS, the number of patients with an open referral for suspected autism increased from 88,000 to just over 122,000 between July 2021 and June 2022. Unfortunately, it means that waiting times for potential autism diagnoses have increased as well and it’s a 13-week wait for patient referrals from their first care contact. 

Therefore, the timing of a new support service in Portsmouth is a welcome one. The council is also encouraging the community to share their experiences of using SEND services in Portsmouth to improve future services. SEND services is a programme where special educational provision and training provisions are available for children and young people aged 0-25 years with special educational needs or a disability. It provides universal provisions such as leisure services (there may be a charge) and checking that services and support respond to local needs and aspirations. 

Other than Room One and SEND services, there is the charity Autism Hampshire which provides various programmes and support for autistic people and their family members, carers and professionals. Recently, the charity did a Winter Wellness campaign that focused on positively boosting mental health and well-being. From 27th March to 2nd April, they will do another movement called ‘What is’ during Autism Acceptance Week. 

With the combination of local charities and emerging services for autism, it’s surprising that MP for Portsmouth North Penny Mordaunt has not thrown her support behind them or spoken with the community about the current access to support and other activities available for autistic people. Ms Mordaunt previously was The Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health from 2016-2017. She actively supported initiatives and other programmes for autistic people, including Ambitious about Autism. In 2017, the charity ran its Autism Exchange Programme for businesses across London.

The programme aimed to get more young people with autism into the workplace by providing them with the employability skills, work experience and support needed to enter the job market. When it was announced, Ms Mordaunt said, “Businesses have been missing out on the huge talent and insight that people with autism can bring to the workforce, and for too long this group has been excluded from the benefits and opportunities that having a job can bring. I urge employers across London to sign up to this innovative programme and continue to build on its success.”

So, where is her current support for autistic services in Portsmouth? For now, it’s fantastic to see more work being done for people with autism, with Room One leading the way.

To find out more about Room One and how to access its services, please follow the link