A group of parents who have children with autism are preparing to open Northern Ireland’s first dedicated Autism Resource Centre.
Helping Hands charity was set up by a number of parents in the Dundonald area in 2008 in response to a lack of support services for children diagnosed with ASD.
Now thanks to funding from Big Lottery Fund and Department of Communities, the charity is about to open a dedicated Autism Resource centre in the former Millar’s Day Centre in Dundonald.
One of the charity’s founder members Caroline Birch has a 15-year-old daughter with ASD, she told Belfast Live how the charity got started.
She said: “When we first got together in 2008 we found there was no real place for children with autism to go, there were no youth clubs or anything so we decided to do it ourselves and we have been running for almost 10 years now next year.
“At the minute on our books we have 85 families which we support through our services and all the kids have a diagnosis somewhere on the spectrum, but as we’ve become more established we’ve outgrown all of the buildings we’ve previously used, so five years ago we spotted this building right next door to a special school and made it our mission to establish a dedicated centre.”
Caroline added the charity couldn’t have got to where they are now without the help of a number of organisations.
She said: “There was an opportunity that came up to get funding through the Big Lottery Project so we submitted our application and came out top scoring application and were awarded £350,000 of funding.
“We had to buy the building off the Health Trust as it was an old day care facility for older people, but once we got into it we realised it would need a lot more work than we had first thought.
“So the Department of Communities came forward and although they couldn’t help with the building costs they said they could help with some of the specialist equipment required to kit the centre out and we got some additional funding from Housing Executive as well.