Get Involved with Autism Initiatives:
Autism-Friendly Town Project in Newcastle, Co. Down 

On Monday 12 June 2017, Autism Initiatives NI and Newry, Mourne & Down District Council officially announced the project to see Newcastle recognised as Northern Ireland’s first Autism-friendly town.

Why Newcastle?

For Autism Initiatives, Newcastle has always held a special significance to our Service Users. We currently support almost 50 individuals across our range of Supported Living and Day Opportunities services. To carry out this work, we’ve become one of the leading employers in the area and now manage over 90 staff who help support the people who we are privileged to support.

In 2015, we conducted a Needs & Wants survey and asked over 230 families and service users what they needed from us with regards to new and innovative services. The top three services identified were:

1.      A swimming programme for children in Belfast, which we have developed

2.      A social skills service for children in Belfast, which we have created

3.      An autism-specific holiday/respite service for children and adults, which has led us to Newcastle

Why reinvent the wheel when we know it works so well in Newcastle – the people, the accessibility, the scenery, the amenities and the possibility make it an ideal spot for this ambitious project. 

The Project Launches with National Director, Gráinne Close and friends from
Newry, Mourne and Down District council. Along with visiting friends
from TILL in Boston.

How can you play a part?

We are fully committed to this project and genuine about its success but we know it won’t happen overnight. In order to make it a real success for not only residents and visitors with Autism but for the whole community, we need your help.

2017 has been a busy year, we along with Newry, Mourne & Down District Council have facilitated the following:

- On 6th March, a proposal was brought forward to see Newcastle designated Northern Ireland’s first Autism-Friendly Town, which was seconded and received full cross-party support with unanimous vote at Newry, Mourne & Down council

- A presentation to Newcastle’s Chamber of Commerce took place on 29th April and received full support on behalf of their members

- An information evening was held on 30th May to inform businesses of the project and detail how they can get involved with the Every Customer Counts campaign

- On 9th June, an International Exchange trip was organised to allow a group of American tourists with Autism to experience the town.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to turn our ambition into a reality and here’s how you can help.

What if I’m a local business owner?

Businesses will play a major role in this project and to date AJC Electrical, Mauds and the Burrendale Hotel have signed up to the Every Customer Counts campaign. However, by November 2017, we have set ourselves a target and hope that 70% of businesses in the town will join this cause.

Simple adjustments can make a world of difference. Making businesses and services more inclusive and accessible to all does not have to be a costly process and often it’s the smallest items that can have the biggest impact. And to help make the process as easy as possible, we’re based in the town to help local businesses implement the advice and guidance from the Every Customer Counts program, kindly provided by our partners in the Equality Commission.

For further information, guidance or to become involved email 

What if I don’t work in or own a business in Newcastle?

Our service users and our American guests highly commended the people of Newcastle for their helpfulness and friendliness. On top of this, the Boston guests detailed how safe they felt exploring the town.

As an individual, you too will have a big part to play in this exciting period for the town.  We’re looking supporters to:

- Visit Newcastle over the Summer period. It’s the gateway to the Mournes and has so much to offer individuals and families with Autism. Please share your experience with us on social media #AutismFriendly

- If you live in Newcastle and are part of community group and have ideas for partnership, contact us on

Join our team as a support worker

- Act as Autism Ambassadors by encouraging local businesses to sign up to Every Customer Counts

- Help us Fundraise in order to bring new services to the local area

- Volunteer at our community garden or day care facility and give back to the community and at the same time improve the lives of our service users

No matter what role you play, you’ll know it’s feeding into something much bigger for the town and the area as a whole. 

For more information, email