Ahead of their Christmas market in Wanstead, STAAR volunteer Alison Charles explains the origins of an organisation that provides support for youngsters with autism
Supporting Together Autism with Activities in Redbridge (STAAR) was formed in 2006 by a small group of parents of autistic children. The founder and leading light was Julie Rennie, who discovered that whilst there was some support available for younger autistic children, there was really nothing suitable for teenagers.
Initially, the group organised coffee mornings and social events for families, where mutual support could be provided in what could be seen as a struggle to obtain the services and benefits their children were entitled to.
As time went on, the group became known and recognised by Redbridge Children’s Services and provided valuable advocacy services to families. The main focus, however, continued to be to provide activities for autistic youngsters, and with some support from Redbridge Council, we set up Gamestaars, an after-school video games club. It is a friendly place to chill out and meet new people with similar interests, whilst enjoying the best games on the market.
As young people grow older, their needs change, and it became obvious that activities like cinema trips, bowling and other outings were not available to autistic youngsters without support. So ‘Out and About’ was formed, where a group leader would consult with a small group of young people about possible trips, then organise and accompany the young people on the chosen activities. Our young people learn to socialise, gain confidence and navigate the sometimes difficult skill of shrewdness when out in the community. Past trips have included theatre productions, theme parks, restaurants and popular attractions in the city. Again, funding from the council was enormously helpful for covering expenses.
Meanwhile, the family social activities continued, as did the carers’ socials, which provide valuable respite and mutual support for carers.
We also started to organise mini-markets and tabletop sales, which not only raise vital funds but also, more importantly, provide valuable volunteering opportunities for the young people who are the focus of all our activities. The markets are also a wonderful place for STAAR members – both old and new – to meet whilst they shop.
Sadly, Julie Rennie was suddenly taken from us in April 2017 by a brain haemorrhage. We lost an immense bank of expertise in autism, disability law, benefit entitlement and procedures that Julie had. But it is a tribute to Julie’s personality and organisation that we have been able to continue to run STAAR activities in her absence.
A STAAR Christmas market will take place on 5 December at Wanstead United Reformed Church (12.30pm to 3pm). For more information, visit wnstd.com/staar