Autism centre wins £300k lotto grant

A centre for autistic children was today celebrating a National Lottery grant of nearly £300,000 that has come just in time lift a threat of closure. The Autistic Way Smart Kids Centre in Gapton Hall Road, Yarmouth, quickly became a lifeline to more than 150 families from a wide area of Norfolk and Suffolk when it opened in 2002, but in recent years had been beset by funding problems.

A centre for autistic children was today celebrating a National Lottery grant of nearly £300,000 that has come just in time lift a threat of closure.

The Autistic Way Smart Kids Centre in Gapton Hall Road, Yarmouth, quickly became a lifeline to more than 150 families from a wide area of Norfolk and Suffolk when it opened in 2002, but in recent years had been beset by funding problems.

Centre manager Jacky Porter said: “The landlord let us off our last quarter's rent because of our lack of funding, and without this lottery grant of £298,635 we would have had to close.

“Now this money has secured our future, meeting 75pc of our running costs for at least the next five years.

“The stability means so much to all the staff because not only do we care for the children and young people in this facility, we also extend support to all the families sharing their problems and giving them support.”

Mrs Porter, who battled to raise more than £100,000 to open the centre because she found there was nowhere for her autistic son Harry, now 15, to go paid tribute to “everyone who helped to put this bid together and those people who gave references”.

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Because of dwindling resources and staff cutbacks, the centre has recently only be able to offer sessions two evenings a week, on Saturdays, and during school holidays.

“With the lottery money we will be able to increase our paid staff from six to seven which is important because most children need one-to-one support,” said Mrs Porter.

“And we will be able to increase the number of sessions and give a chance for new mums to come in. That is vital because when kids are first diagnosed it is hard to take and difficult to accept.”

She said parents had been growing increasingly anxious about the future as there was no comparable centre that gave carers a much needed break while ensuring their children were being looked after in a happy, safe environment.

She said: “We even get families who come along when they are on holiday in Yarmouth and say there is nothing like Smart Kids in their part of the country.”

Mrs Porter said a lot of parents split up under the pressure of caring for autistic children whose behaviour could be unpredictable and at times violent.

One mother said: “When you have kids like ours the stress is enormous and even friends and family lack the expertise to take the load off. There is only one place to go when I need a break and a sympathetic ear and that's Smart Kids.”

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright, a patron of the charity, said: “This lottery grant is excellent news and gives the centre the time and opportunity to start looking at the longer term future so it can avoid another cash crisis further down the line.”

The charity is bidding for further grants and looking to increase fundraising through such means as hiring the centre for children's parties.