Bubble tank unveiling marked the launch of Yarmouth autism centre

Sunbeams in Great Yarmouth celebrated its official opening with a crowd of well-wishers and the spec

Sunbeams in Great Yarmouth celebrated its official opening with a crowd of well-wishers and the special guest mayor Shirley Weymouth. - Credit: Archant

The varied aspects of a specialist centre for children with autism were seen by well-wishers at its official opening.

Town mayor Shirley Weymouth was guest of honour at Sunbeams Play in Gapton Hall Road, an out of school centre for children on the autistic spectrum.

But instead of unveiling a traditional plaque she had the pleasure of dedicating a sensory bubble tank.

'We just thought 'Why spend money on a plaque when we can buy something for the children?'' said the chair of trustees Liz Prentice.

Around 60 people gathered at the industrial unit to celebrate the centre's official opening on Thursday.

Funded by Children in Need and the Three Guineas Trust it provides families with much-needed respite, while youngsters can make friends and have fun in a caring and safe environment.

Sessions run on Monday and Tuesday evenings with a Saturday morning group for younger children and a parent support group on Thursdays, 1-3pm.

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Mrs Prentice said the nearest similar set-up was in Essex.

Although the centre opened for children in January it had to wait until it was Ofsted registered to be able to grow and provided the kind of service it knew was needed.

The registration came just in time for it to start summer sessions, allowing families to plan a day out - something that was often impossible with an autistic child.

The well-attended opening came in a busy week for the life-line facility which also took centre stage in the Children in Need broadcast as one of the charity's beneficiaries.

Mrs Prentice paid tribute to manager Monica Bates, hailing her 'passion and determination' in making the centre such a success, adding that she had been the driving force.

She was also full of praise for the generous support of local businesses and charity organisations.

Around 15 children at a time enjoy sessions at the centre which takes a whole-family approach providing time and space for siblings who sometimes only want a quiet place to do their home work.

'Autistic children are just the tip of the iceberg,' she said. 'It has to move on to include the families and advice and support. We have a parents' group and anyone can come to that whether or not their child comes to Sunbeams.'

The youngsters enjoying activities there were not generally those with the most complex needs, but were nevertheless 'lost' in the system, she said, adding: 'Our vision is a world where children and young people with autism are celebrated. It's about nurturing, supporting and giving them time.'

Seeing the children make friends and interract with each other was one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in Sunbeams, in an area where there was a high level of need, she added.

The centre is run as a charity employing seven staff.