News & Events

Popular NI Tourist Town Launches Autism-Friendly Project

Autism Initiatives and Newry, Mourne & Down Council Announce Big Plans for the Region.

A civic reception was held at the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle on Monday 12 June 2017 to officially launch a project to see the popular seaside resort recognised as Northern Ireland’s first Autism-friendly town. The campaign, supported by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, through the Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Department, aims to encourage the business community in the region to think differently about autism.

To help launch the project, a group of Autism Ambassadors from Boston-based service provide ‘Toward Independent Living and Learning’, attended the event to sample local produce, explore the town and take part in mystery shopping to gauge the autism-friendliness of local businesses. Visiting Northern Ireland, as part of an international exchange program with Autism Initiatives, the guests had previously spent the weekend sightseeing in Belfast and Northern Ireland while taking part in conferences and social events with Service Users from Northern Ireland.

{L-R} Marie Ward Newry, Mourne and Down Council Dafna Krouk-Gordon TILL
Roisin Mulgrew Newry Mourne and Down Council Grainne Close Autism Initiatives
Liam Hannaway Newry Mourne and Down Council

Speaking about the project, Autism Initiatives National Director, Grainne Close said: “What an exciting time for Newcastle to be recognised locally and internationally as a leading Autism destination. Autism Initiatives have been present in the town for some time and currently employs 90 people locally to help support adults with autism in the community. It’s no surprise why our Service Users flourish here, the friendliness of the people combined with the beautiful surroundings make Newcastle a true gem.

Close further added: “Our long-term plan is to open a specialist Autism holiday home in the area and to do this successfully we rely on key partnerships such as the one with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the International Ambassador Programme with TILL. Partnerships like these ensure that we share knowledge, best practice and expertise to better meet the needs of those living with Autism both locally and internationally.”

Councillor Roisin Mulgrew with the Boston Ambassadors from TILL

Councillor Roisin Mulgrew, Chairperson of Newry, Mourne & Down Council said: “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is absolutely delighted to be working with Autism Initiatives NI and the Newcastle Business community to ensure that the project is successful and that Newcastle is recognised both nationally and internationally as a welcoming destination for all visitors.  We are especially delighted to welcome our guests from Boston and hope they have a wonderful time in our beautiful area.”

Speaking about the visit, Dafna Krouk-Gordon from Boston-based service provider ‘Toward Independent Living and Learning’ highlighted: “TILL Travel offers opportunities for exciting, new challenges through visiting places around the world. Exchange programmes such as this allow travellers to develop a sense of confidence, long lasting friendships and mastery of new social skills by making connections with others abroad. Autism Initiatives Northern Ireland presents an excellent opportunity to connect with practitioners and educators in Northern Ireland who work on similar issues as in the United States in developing community based housing and vocational opportunities for people on the Autism spectrum and specialized needs. TILL is committed to the belief that such exchanges strengthen the creativity and development of social systems which can then meet the individualised needs and abilities of everyone in society."