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Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Cllrs William McCaughey and Matthew Armstrong, Cllrs Danny Donnelly and Cheryl Johnston and son Lyle; with Joanne Keown (Autism NI), Petr Zvolsky (Autism Ref Group), Dr Petra Corr and Jayne Colville (NHSCT) and Mary O'Boyle
Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Cllrs William McCaughey and Matthew Armstrong, Cllrs Danny Donnelly and Cheryl Johnston and son Lyle; with Joanne Keown (Autism NI), Petr Zvolsky (Autism Ref Group), Dr Petra Corr and Jayne Colville (NHSCT) and Mary O'Boyle

Press release -

Autism Friendly Mid and East Antrim is ready to welcome you this summer!

Leisure facilities and visitor attractions owned and operated by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have gone ‘above and beyond’ to create accessible and ‘autism friendly’ environments – and that’s official!

Council’s Seven Towers, Carrickfergus Amphitheatre and Larne Leisure Centres, as well as Carnfunnock Country Park, Ballymena’s People’s Park and The Gobbins at Islandmagee, have all achieved ‘Autism IMPACT Award’ accreditation from Autism NI, and in partnership with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT).

Dr Petra Corr, Director of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Wellbeing with the Northern Trust, Joanne Keown from Autism NI, and the new Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor William McCaughey, were joined to officially celebrate the achievement in the stunning coastal surroundings of The Gobbins yesterday.

Councillors Cheryl Johnston, Matthew Armstrong (Deputy Mayor) and Danny Donnelly, who are Elected Members Autism Champions and sit on the Mid and East Antrim Autism Friendly Steering Group, also attended the launch, along with Council Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy OBE.

The IMPACT Award was presented to Council in recognition of the work undertaken to open up our facilities and services to autistic individuals and their families and carers.

The prestigious achievement involved staff training and a number of adjustments to improve accessibility and overall customer experience, including pre-visit guides and ‘quiet spaces’ at a number of venues.

Launching the IMPACT Award during one of his first public engagements, Mayor McCaughey, said:

“I am delighted to share in this celebration of the commitment of Council, in partnership with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and Autism NI, to make our Borough an ‘Autism Friendly’ place to live, visit and work in.

“Under Council’s Community Plan, we want to create a strong, vibrant, safe and inclusive community, where we all work together to improve the lives of everyone, and this initiative is a very important milestone in meeting that objective.”

Anne Donaghy OBE added:

“I commend all our staff who have completed the Autism Champion training to gain a greater understanding of autism and how by making adaptations, we can better support those with autism and their loved ones within our community.

“As the mother of a child with additional needs, I know how vital it is for equal access to all our facilities and attractions, to ensure family days out and experiences are filled with joy. This is something I am very proud to say that our Council continues to champion.

“From a trip to the park, to arranging a swim, theatre visit or guided tour, we want people with autism, their families and carers, to experience a welcoming and enjoyable visit.”

The NHSCT’s Dr Petra Corr also spoke at the event:

“We are delighted to be working alongside Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in supporting them to make their borough autism friendly. I would like to commend them for their hard work and dedication in completing and achieving the Autism NI IMPACT Award and accreditation within both their leisure centres and outside spaces.

“Making these public services and spaces accessible and autism friendly is vitally important in order to provide a welcoming and understanding atmosphere for our autistic community.

“Many families and autistic individuals from within their communities will benefit from the hard work and persistence they have put in over the last year and more. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Council in the months to come.”

Joanne Keown, Training and Development Officer with Autism NI, added:

“Autism NI are delighted to work with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to help improve the autism accessibility of their services.

“Through the IMPACT Award programme, staff across various venues have accessed training to support them in building their understanding of autism and how they can make adaptations to support autistic customers and their families.

“Each of the venues have been making practical adjustments to their services and the information they provide to better support the autism community throughout their borough. We look forward to continuing to expand the autism awareness and accessibility across more facilities in partnership with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Mid and East Antrim Community Planning Partnership is currently working to make our Borough 'Autism Friendly', This action was prioritised, as the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is increasing rapidly, and there has been a marked increase in diagnosis rates in Northern Ireland.

As a local council, it is important that we foster inclusive communities where we all play our part in improving the lives of others.

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