New Cedar House – Redevelopment of Accommodation for Children with Autism

Redevelopment of children’s (up to 18 years old) residential accommodation within The North East Centre for Autism, Newton Aycliffe, to create 8 apartments and communal areas, which are fit for purpose, appropriate spaces to fit the complex and differing needs of young people with Autism.

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Project information

  • Location of project
    Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, North East

  • Submitter
    Kevin Meikle

  • Award category
    Regional Project

  • Prize won

Project Introduction

In 2013 NEAS acquired the former ‘Aycliffe Secure Centre’ to build a new state of the art school. The project involved demolishing part of the old building and refurbishing other areas. Within this we created Cedar House Children’s Home, but limitations on funding meant that we had to do the best that we could with existing buildings, converted former accommodation into ensuite bedrooms and small apartments.

We quickly recognised however, the value of giving young people an apartment where they could learn independent living skills (cooking, cleaning, budgeting etc.) and socialise or withdraw to their own space as preferred. We believe passionately that our children deserve to have a space in which they feel happy, can develop and thrive. The proposed project therefore will see us redevelop the space through bespoke design, creating 8 brand new self-contained apartments which recognise this positive step.

Autism prevalence in children is steadily rising, with now at least 1 in 100 diagnosed, which has led to an increase in demand for all services offering support for people with autism and their families. Autism however is generally underresourced when commissioning appropriate services and therefore a chronic shortage of specialist support in our region and growing need.

Residential placement is a decision to be made when a family is no longer able to care for the needs of their child at home, or a care placement breaks down due to needs being met inadequately. It is important to note that this decision is not giving up on the child - it is recognising that the child needs more specialist care than others can provide, and taking the steps necessary to allow them to grow and thrive in a place able to provide this.

A residential placement is not necessarily permanent. If support is built that address es concerns, it may be possible for the child to return home, or to successfully transition into a supported or independent living arrangement. Providing an appropriate environment, person-centred planning and support, individuals can learn to overcome challenges resulting in a radical reduction and reliance on costly one to one support.

Providing this level of care for children with autism is complex and highly specialised work however. The environment in which they live can have a profound impact on their health, behaviour and wellbeing. Many people with autism have sensory sensitivity; senses can be over or under-developed, impacting on how they experience and cope with different environments. Providing the right setting can help enhance motivation, confidence and self-esteem.

Large institutional residences are not appropriate for most people with autism. They can be over-stimulating environments, occupied by large numbers of people. Smaller accommodation, such as self-contained flats in a single building as we propose, have been shown to lessen challenging behaviour with individuals benefiting from more variety and stimulation from their living environment (Brand, 2010).

We have worked diligently therefore with award winning designers, Gradon, to ensure we create a space which meets specific sensory needs: has a clear layout to minimise confusion and create a calming effect for residents; has light and space to promote calmness and positive social interaction; avoids corridors, and has rooms that offer a refuge from the group to reduce stress.

Demand for the project has been bolstered by the success of our existing apartments, where young people are able to gain much more independence. This will be continued in our project; activities enabling residents to make informed choices and take on responsibilities will add meaning and purpose to everyday life. Enhancing our residents sense of ownership and engagement with the home environment will undoubtedly increasing life skills and improve the quality of their lives.

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