AUTISTIC children and their families in the south of the region are set to benefit from a new school and community facility.

The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in South Bank, Middlesbrough, opened its doors this week welcoming its first cohort of students to the newly refurbished North East Autism Society school.

The third of its kind for the charity in the region, the school, formerly known as the Cooper Centre, will provide autism-specific education for children and young people aged 5-19.

Principal Tracey Train said: “We’re delighted to be able to serve families from this part of the region by finally being able to open our doors to welcome in students – many of whom have been out of education for a substantial amount of time.

“We’ve worked really hard to refurbish the centre, which had previously been used for office space, and we are thrilled with the bright, spacious environment we now have.”

As well as modernised classrooms, each with their own secure outdoor green space, the centre also boasts a large play yard, multi-use hall, student common room and has room to accommodate the growing waiting list of students.

But the most exciting development is what the centre could offer the wider community.

North East Autism Society Chief Executive officer, John Phillipson, added: “We have forged a brilliant partnership with Redcar and Cleveland Council and it’s our aim to make this much more than just a school. We hope to be able to create a base for community support services for families and autistic people themselves.

“It’s brilliant to have been able to hear that we have students now in the classrooms, and in our off-site programme. Autistic and neurodiverse children have the same rights to a meaningful education as every other child, and we are delighted to be able to expand our reach into the Teesside in order to open our third school.”

“I’d like to thank our partners within Redcar and Cleveland Council for their support in getting this initiative across the line to be able to provide this outstanding facility in the South Bank area.

The centre is named after North East Autism Society patron, world-renowned, Middlesbrough-born artist, Mackenzie Thorpe. An official opening will take place later this year, pending Covid restrictions and announcements.

The North East Autism Society is celebrating its 40th year serving the region’s autistic children, young people and adults, and their families.

The charity, which began by an audacious group of parents re-mortgaging their homes to fund the first school of its kind in the north, now has a further education college, short breaks lodges, a farm-based training centre, employment services, residential homes, supported living and three schools in Aycliffe, Sunderland and now South Bank.