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Autism hub at Norwich college which has helped hundreds marks 10th birthday

PUBLISHED: 15:12 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:12 09 February 2018

Former and present students at the RUGROOM centre (Really Useful Group) with regional manager, Gemma Burton, right, which celebrates ten years as the City College Norwich's autism centre. From left, Ian Harding, was one of the first students at the centre; Samuel Jack, present Phoenix Purple student; and Sam Robinson, former student. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Former and present students at the RUGROOM centre (Really Useful Group) with regional manager, Gemma Burton, right, which celebrates ten years as the City College Norwich's autism centre. From left, Ian Harding, was one of the first students at the centre; Samuel Jack, present Phoenix Purple student; and Sam Robinson, former student. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

A support hub set up for - and by - students with autism at a Norwich college is marking its 10th birthday.

Isabel Brewin, left, the first tutor and Danusia Latosinski, second left, the first regional director, celebrating the RUGROOM (Really Useful Group) centre's ten years as the City College's autism centre, with the present regional manager, Gemma Burton, centre; Dawn Bendell, second right, former support worker; and Vicki Wilson, former student advisor. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Isabel Brewin, left, the first tutor and Danusia Latosinski, second left, the first regional director, celebrating the RUGROOM (Really Useful Group) centre's ten years as the City College's autism centre, with the present regional manager, Gemma Burton, centre; Dawn Bendell, second right, former support worker; and Vicki Wilson, former student advisor. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The RUGROOM at City College Norwich (CCN) has helped hundreds of students since it opened in February 2008.

The facility was launched by a group of students on the autistic spectrum - who called themselves the Really Useful Group - after the college recruited their help designing a suitable social and study place.

It includes pods for students to enjoy some downtime, a newly-extended quiet room, computers and a kitchen area.

The college has seen a marked increase in the number of students with autism - while in 2007/08 just eight students were on its Phoenix Purple course, tailored for young people with autism, today 56 are.

Former student Robyn Steward chats to Anthony Harris, her former support worker, by computer as she was unable to be at the RUGROOM centre's (Really Useful Group) tenth anniversary celebrations as the City College Norwich's autism centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Former student Robyn Steward chats to Anthony Harris, her former support worker, by computer as she was unable to be at the RUGROOM centre's (Really Useful Group) tenth anniversary celebrations as the City College Norwich's autism centre. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

In total, including students on mainstream courses, the number with autism currently at the college is more than 220.

Gemma Burton has been involved with the RUGROOM since its creation, and today is its manager.

She said: “It makes an incredible difference for students - many wouldn’t have come into further education without it. Having that additional support can make all the difference.

“Lots of our students have gone onto work and that has been helped by being on our specialist courses.”

She said the increase in demand had seen the college extend the space, which is used by both students on Phoenix Purple and mainstream courses.

“It can be difficult for colleges, particularly mainstream ones, to provide as much autism support as they would like,” she said.

“We have lots of students that come in from outside of the city as there isn’t the support in their area.

“Though we’ve been doing it for so long we are still ahead of the curve.”

In 2009, the RUGROOM was presented the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, and has been handed several other national awards since its inception.

RUGROOM staff and students have been proactive in raising awareness of autism, both in and outside of the college.

It was a ‘safe’ haven

Film producer and animator Ian Harding began his time at CCN studying a GCSE in art.

He later moved onto vocational courses in art and design and graphic design, before taking the first steps into his career.

Mr Harding, now 36 and from King’s Lynn, said the RUGROOM was a “safe haven” for students.

“The Really Useful Group used to meet in a classroom at lunchtimes and it provided somewhere for us to get away from the noise of college and mix with other students like yourself, do homework, and so on,” he said.

“I remember working with other students and giving our ideas on what we would like to have in the RUGROOM.

“The RUGROOM was like a safe haven, somewhere you could go and know that you were not alone.

“There was lots of support, it was really good, and I’m glad it’s still there now and helping lots of other people with autism.”

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