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George Smith, Chair of Board of Trustees, reflects on the year in this week’s blog post.

It was January 22nd when my first ever blog was posted on the Autism East Midlands website. That was when I introduced myself as the recently elected Chair of the Board of the charity.

All seemed pretty straightforward at the time, although news bulletins were reporting that China seemed to be fighting an epidemic of flu-like symptoms that were spreading rapidly across their country.

At Autism East Midlands, plans were well established to finish off the upgrades to two properties in Retford to house our Whitegates residents in improved homes and to build up our proposed employment service. We would continue to build up our student numbers in Sutherland House School and expand our Family Support Service with additional Hubs across the region.

That was then….

All the plans that I had formed in my own mind to help take the organisation forward over the next twelve months were suddenly thwarted by the arrival of the pandemic that we now know as Covid-19.

The first national lockdown was imposed. We scurried around to get our students home, to make sure we had enough provisions and to draw up our to-do lists.

As families, staff and supporters of our organisation, I have absolutely no doubt that you have been impacted in many ways. Some may have contracted the virus; I hope that you have recovered well. Some may have, sadly, lost loved ones, friends or acquaintances; I am deeply sorry for your loss and hope that you will accept my sincere condolences.

As an organisation, we have been able to maintain our residential services without any major issues. We were able to provide the necessary protective equipment to keep staff and residents safe, although the location and provision of the equipment was hard work at the time.

Day Services were severely disrupted and Family Support Hubs in person were curtailed.

Sutherland House School remained open for those students that the government said could continue to be provided with face to face education, and were creative in the development of remote learning for others.

Thankfully, we managed a break in the late Spring/Summer when some form of normal service was able to resume and our residents from Whitegates were able to move house!

Then the Autumn came, and we were locked down again.

Zoom – (don’t you wish that you had shares?)

By the power of the internet, we have all met with families and friends and held meetings online over the past nine months.

Day Services, School and Family Support Hubs have been able to keep in touch with service users and offer support wherever possible. The Charity Board has met at more regular intervals so that we could keep abreast of changes, issues and the financial implications of all the service interruptions.

Thankfully, our services are not quite so disrupted as on the first lockdown occasion.  Nevertheless, we continue to be vigilant in the provision that we make.

All through this period of the virus, you – families with loved ones accessing our services, service users themselves, staff within our organisation, supporters – have adapted to meet the changing needs both within your own families, your places of work and out in the community. You have all made a major contribution towards fighting this dreadful virus.

I hope that I will be forgiven for taking this opportunity to place on record my sincere thanks to all the employees of Autism East Midlands for their efforts over the past nine months.  Without you, the organisation would cease to function. We would not remain in a position to go forward and create the kind of service that we all dream of – ‘A world which recognises, understands and values autistic people, and where their families receive the services and support they need throughout their lives.’

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a safe, peaceful and restful time with those who are dear to you.

Best wishes

George Smith

Trust Board Chair