We're incredibly proud of our branches across the UKWe know how hard you all work and how much you mean to the autism community where you are. Our branches are all run by volunteers – people who are passionate about supporting autistic people and their families.

Our branches offer a huge range of activities and support for autistic people and their families of all ages. A massive thank you to all our branch volunteers. Read a few of their stories below.

Herefordshire
Calderdale
Ellon
Harrogate
South Hampshire
Blaenau Gwent
Chester and Cheshire West
Carmarthenshire
South Gloucester 
Surrey

Herefordshire

Photo: HerefordshireDebbie Hobbs is Chair of the Herefordshire Branch. She’s been volunteering since 2015, when the branch was founded.

Thanks to the team’s hard work and enthusiasm, the branch was nominated as the Mayor's local charity, and they have even been nominated as Community Group of the Year at the Hereford City Community Group Achievement Awards. The branch also sits on local strategic groups, helping to make sure autistic people and their families’ needs are represented locally.

Branch activities include:

  • free advice, information, and signposting about autism in the community
  • training and talks to local businesses, schools and colleges with no charge
  • regular talks and meetups to raise public awareness of autism
  • coffee mornings for parents, carers, and adults on the autism spectrum to share experiences and receive informal support
  • a monthly support group for teenagers aged 13 to 19 and their siblings
  • a support group for children aged two to 12 for children on the autism spectrum and their siblings
  • an adult support group to meet like-minded people on the autism spectrum
  • an autism resource library that is available to the public online
  • many kinds of fundraising activities and events throughout the year.

Debbie started volunteering due to a lack of autism-friendly services in the local area. She says, “Herefordshire didn't have anything that I could do with my son.”

We wanted to build an Autism Family and we can finally say that, with the help of setting up a branch in Herefordshire from The National Autistic Society, we have that family.

Calderdale

Photo: CalderdaleOur Calderdale Branch began in 2008. The branch volunteers provide a wide range of free services to the local community​.

The group is run by volunteers and funded entirely by donations. Thanks to the hard work of its passionate volunteers, Calderdale won Branch of the Year at The National Autistic Society’s Staff and Volunteer Awards 2016, and was praised for the diversity of the groups it provides.

Branch activities include:

  • support and information for people on the autism spectrum and their families
  • coffee mornings and to share stories and meet like-minded people
  • a bowling group for teenagers on the autism spectrum
  • a group for siblings of people on the autism spectrum
  • a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
  • a girls’ group, providing support for young girls on the autism spectrum
  • a closed Facebook group to provide peer support
  • family fundraising events throughout the year.

Since it began, the Calderdale Branch has gone from strength to strength. The branch now offers a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, frequently works with autism-related services to provide a monthly transition support group, and takes part in training delivered by the ASD team.

The branch makes a difference to people's lives by listening to the views and concerns of its members. It campaigns for better services by working with children's services and CAMHS, and is fortunate to be included in developmental projects and strategies in Calderdale.

Speaking to the community reveals just how important the work of our volunteers can be. The branch "makes you feel less alone”, says one member.

The group provides support and understanding, and the events provide a safe non-judgmental environment, so that children can just be themselves and experience things they otherwise wouldn't be able to.

Ellon

Photo: EllonOur Ellon Branch provides a listening ear, emotional support, information and signposting to anyone with an interest or connection to autism.

The branch provides family fun days, bi annual autism conferences, parent training seminars, weekly term-time social skills sessions to teenagers and young adults. The huge success of their annual quiz night fundraiser enables them to offer a support network. Socialeyes members and parents support the branch when required.

Parents tell us that we have been a lifeline on many occasions and being able to speak/meet with others who understand is invaluable.

The branch’s conferences are used as continued professional development by many health, education and third sector organisations as well as parents. They provides learning opportunities for all delivered by many well-known autism professionals.

A branch volunteer said that having a local branch allows people to meet face-to-face, share issues or concerns specific to the area and work together. Many parents, families and professionals don’t know what’s available locally and nationally. They volunteer also sayd, “Many families also don’t know their rights, where to go at point of diagnosis and what services may be accessible.”

If the branch didn’t exist then many would continue to struggle when there are services locally that many be able to help them.

It’s been a good year for Ellon Branch, and members were delighted to support Aberdeen Football Club to become the first football team in Scotland to receive their Autism Friendly Access Award. Ellon’s Branch Officer was also awarded British Empire Medal in recognition of her work supporting the autism community.

The hard work and dedication of Gail in managing the branch, as well as the commitment and support from volunteers, makes such a difference to people and families affected by autism in our community.

This year the branch has been involved in supporting local football teams to become more autism friendly and Gail has made recommendations to various clubs so that young people on the autism spectrum in the North East can have a more comfortable and enjoyable experience at the football.

Branch volunteers are discussing the provision of tickets and possible seating areas in stadiums/stands where a family or individual can go along for a trial and continue going if everything goes well.

Harrogate

Photo: HarrogateOur Harrogate Branch has around 180 members. They support their members with a newsletter, a yearly conference and a family fun day.

The branch makes a big difference to local autistic people and their families. The groups they fund and support help reduce social isolation and provide a safe place for autistic people to relax and be themselves. These groups give families short breaks and/or opportunities to meet and socialise.

The committee also provides advice and signposting. Individual members support individual families where appropriate. They also fundraise to support a very successful youth group for young people on the autism spectrum in mainstream school and an adult social group. The branch also holds a Fringe Conference alongside the charity’s Autism Professionals Conference at the Harrogate International Centre.

The conference is an opportunity to see a morning of high profile speakers, including National Autistic Society Chief Executive Mark Lever. It is put together especially for local families, carers and people on the autism spectrum. Harrogate Branch turns ten this year, and they’ll be celebrating in style at the conference and at a family party. Their next conference will be their ninth since 2007. Their most successful conference attracted over 300 people, making it the UK’s largest National Autistic Society branch conference.

Last year the family fun day and picnic which was a huge success, with over 20 families taking part. The branch will celebrate its tenth birthday celebrations with a family fun day and picnic, along with a slide and lots of games and activities.

South Hampshire

Photo: HerefordshireOur South Hampshire Branch has around 789 members, including families, individuals and professionals.

In January 2017, the branch won The Farooqi Award for Diversity and Inclusion 2016, awarded to those who have made a positive contribution to diversity and inclusion in the Borough of Eastleigh. The Chief Executive of Eastleigh Borough Council, the Chief Executive of One Community and the Asian Welfare and Cultural Association (AWCA) presented the volunteers with the award.

The branch’s regular activities include:

  • parent/carer support group
  • family youth club
  • LEGO club
  • branch resource library
  • Southampton social groups for children and adults
  • CAMHS ASC support group for families on the diagnosis waiting list
  • social skills groups for children aged 7-11.

In October and November 2016, the branch received funding from Healthwatch Hampshire to carry out a consultation. The consultation was about the way mental health affects children and adults on the autism spectrum, and access to services in Hampshire over the previous three years. It was aimed at children, young people and adults on the autism spectrum, their families and carers, and the professionals who work with them. The volunteers worked in partnership with Hampshire Autism Voice (HAV), and Autism Hampshire facilitated focus groups and one-to-one interviews.

A special highlight of the branch’s calendar was organising their sell-out conference with Professor Tony Attwood at Winchester Guildhall in May 2017. Four hundred people, including families, professionals and people on the autism spectrum attended. One volunteer said, “Although it has been hard work in organising it with a small branch committee, it has been incredibly rewarding!”

The branch are heavily involved in the implementation of Hampshire’s Autism Strategies. Two committee members are members of Hampshire Autism Voice (HAV), which is the parent, carers and people-with-autism group on the Hampshire Autism Partnership Board.

One volunteer said that it's amazing to see all the hard work the volunteers continue to invest into various different projects and activities.

The branch is thriving and local families are benefitting from their efforts – we would like to say a huge thank you to the South Hampshire Branch for everything you do.

"A true example of what branches can achieve and the incredible impact your work can have."

Blaenau Gwent

Our Blaenau Gwent Branch re-formed in October 2016. The eight committee members all either have children, young adults or grandchildren on the autism spectrum.

The group offers support to families through monthly meetings and coffee mornings. They also arrange events so that members can take part in activities they might otherwise avoid.

The branch's Caroline Phillips says, “If we didn’t have a branch we feel that families would lose the ability to reach out to us for support and signposting to other agencies that could offer solutions to any issues they are experiencing.  

She said, “This year has been challenging for us as a new team, but we have worked hard to support each other to ensure we have worked to offer gold standard service to our families.”

The branch had a fantastic World Autism Awareness Week. They held several events for families and communities, raising funds and awareness to help them continue their work. One member who went to a soft play event said:

I love these sessions, they make both me and my child feel that we are not judged but ordinary families having a day out, thank you for providing us with these opportunities.

Chester and Cheshire West

Our Chester and Cheshire West Branch was one of our very first branches. It formed in 1991. The group supports around 400 members.

Branch activities include:

  • sending out a quarterly newsletter
  • attending a large number of strategic groups to support The National Autistic Society and local campaign work across both children's and adult services
  • providing speaker events and family seminars such as managing anger
  • delivering awareness talks locally
  • a telephone line providing information and support
  • and running an autism resource library.

The library is in a bungalow in a local school’s grounds. It show-cases a collection of books, DVDs, CDs, visual aids, sensory toys and other useful tools to support anyone caring for people on the autism spectrum or with other learning or sensory difficulties. Library visitors can borrow and try things out on the site. It offers sensory toys, weighted clothing, visual aids, ear defenders and timing tools. These resources prove invaluable for families with children or adults on the autism spectrum or with related conditions, to help them find items that support in them in everyday life without having to spend a large amount from the outset.

The branch make a difference in the area by making sure autism remains high on the agenda in their authority. The members make sure autistic people and their families’ voices are listened to when new services are planned or changes in provision are being planned. If there wasn’t a branch in the area it would be harder to be involved in so many strategic meetings. One volunteer said:

It is great to know that we can make a difference to families' lives!

Carmarthenshire

Photo: CalderdaleMarie James is a volunteer at our Carmarthenshire Branch. She enjoys working to support autistic people and their families in the community by raising awareness.​

Established in 2002, following a successful meeting of parents to discuss forming a local support group, the branch has grown to support our mainstream campaigns, and frequently engages with assembly members to protect and improve autism services.

Branch activities include:

  • providing information and support about autism to the community
  • organising soft play, bounce sessions and children's activities at local venues
  • autism-friendly cinema and swimming sessions
  • restaurant meals and social events at a private resort
  • annual pantomime and theatre visits in Swansea
  • awareness and information sessions for parents and carers
  • annual Christmas and Halloween parties
  • a lending library of autism resources

Marie says she started volunteering as a way to support local families. “Mutual support is incredibly important for families like mine. Particularly at the start of their roller coaster journeys with autism. Lending support is very important at other periods too, especially if families face difficulties accessing appropriate and adequate services.”

“Volunteering is a wonderful way to keep updated with current policies, procedures and best practises. There are varied opportunities to enhance skills and to be part of a wider movement pushing for change, raising understanding and improving services.”

When it comes to the best thing about volunteering, she says it’s been the ability to provide sessions for the whole family. Marie finds that getting to see the children smile and enjoy of all of the activities has been extremely satisfying.

Life can be isolating for so many of our families living with autism. Being able to facilitate opportunities for parents to meet and share experiences and to offer support is incredibly rewarding and, in turn, therapeutic too.

South Gloucester 

Our South Gloucester Branch offer a wide range of activities for families in the local area. It gives support and advice to parents and children and provides a place for children to socialise.

Some of their activities include:

  • two parent support groups once a month
  • a coffee morning once a month
  • a monthly science club for children
  • monthly youth activities such as bowling

The branch volunteers are particularly proud of their 2016 Christmas party as The Armadillo in Yate. The kids watched Arthur Christmas at the venue’s cinema, before heading downstairs for a boogie and a burger at a disco.

A special mention goes to Ann-Marie, who “works so hard to make the South Gloucestershire branch vibrant and exciting to be a part of.” One volunteer said Ann-Marie keeps it all going strong, emailing regularly and keeping parents up-do-date.

I have no idea how she does it all - but she does it all with a smile! She is very kind and welcoming, and I am so grateful for the time and effort she puts into making the branch such a great place for both children and parents.

Surrey

Sara Truman is the Deputy Chair of our Surrey Branch. She has volunteered for the branch for an amazing 18 years.

Branch activities include:

  • local parent support groups in seven venues around Surrey
  • a group for parents of girls in Guildford and Woking, which also arranges get-togethers for the girls with their parents
  • a group for fathers which meets 3-4 times a year in different towns
  • a group for parents of adults on the autism spectrum, which meets monthly in one of six different towns
  • a group for spouses and partners of people on the autism spectrum which meets monthly in Guildford
  • an online support group, through a moderated email forum
  • a large conference every two years with well-known speakers
  • occasional family events for children on the autism spectrum and their siblings/families
  • parent/carer information meetings and seminars on a range of topics

Branch representatives also regularly attend meetings with professionals from health, education and social services to lobby for better provision. Sara was Branch Chair from 1999-2011, and then became Deputy Chair. She leads on issues for adults on the autism spectrum and their families. Sara started volunteering because she found the branch very helpful when she first joined twenty years ago.

Sara says, “I wanted to help other parents in the way I had been supported. I also wanted to do what I could to improve provision for autism in Surrey."  

I have made lots of friends who also have children with autism and we all support each other. I still learn something new every day which helps me to understand my autistic son.