Group for adults with autism handed funding reprieve ‘will continue to fight’ for support

A group for adults on the autism spectrum living in coastal West Sussex, which feared support funding could be axed but has been handed a reprieve, says it will ‘continue fighting’.

Members of the Asperger's Syndrome Self-Advocacy group
Members of the Asperger's Syndrome Self-Advocacy group

Asperger’s Syndrome Self Advocacy (ASSA) is based in Littlehampton but also covers Worthing, Adur, Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Petworth.

It gives adults on the autism spectrum a voice so that their rights are upheld and ensures they are involved in decision making, with examples being participation in focus groups, taking part in quality checks and providing advice when the council wants feedback.

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Group meetings also provide an opportunity to socialise, develop friendships, provide peer-to-peer support, discuss issues that affect them and raise awareness of these.

ASSA is one of six self advocacy groups across the county for people with learning disabilities and autistic adults supported by Impact Initiatives and funded by a contract from West Sussex County Council.

This contract, due to end in June, is being reviewed and there were fears it could be axed.

However the county council has this week confirmed a 12-month extension has been agreed up to June 2020.

Extension ‘extra time to prove our case’

Victoria Littlejohn, 27, who lives in Selsey and is a committee member at ASSA, said: “It [the extension] will give us extra time to prove our case that our services save money, by enabling WSCC to fulfil their legal obligations to autistic people at a very low cost, and by providing advocacy to disabled people facing crises that would otherwise be very costly for the council.

“We are so relieved that we have a better chance to save our groups, and will continue to fight to keep them long-term.”

She described how the group ‘stops us being isolated and enables us to make friends’. Meanwhile the help from Impact Initiatives is ‘essential’ and without it the group would likely fold.

Victoria explained: “We would try and struggle along for a few months but it would just dwindle and end.”

‘Overwhelmed by support’

A spokesman for Impact Initiatives said: “We at Impact Initiatives are delighted to have received this contract extension. This will allow us to continue to support people to make their voices heard through our issue based advocacy and self-advocacy support services until June 2020 and importantly will also allow for service users to be involved in the review process when it takes place.

“Our team were really overwhelmed by the support shown for our service by those who we have worked with and we would like to thank everyone who signed our petition, wrote letters and spoke to their representatives.

“Our team really believes in the vital importance of the work we do in helping improve people’s lives, and the support shown from us by those who we work for is proof that these advocacy services really do matter and are worth the investment from our local government.”

Review to involve people using services

Paul McKay, director of adults’ services at the county council, said: “I am pleased to confirm that further funding for advocacy services has been agreed this week, which allows for a 12 month extension period of the current contract until the end of June 2020.

“During this time a review will take place which will include the involvement of the people using the services, and self-advocates, alongside other advocacy services funded by the council.

“I hope this will reassure people who are supported by these services and the Littlehampton based provider, Impact Initiatives, and their staff.

“The county council continues to face financial pressure to meet the rising demand for adult social care and careful consideration needs to be given to the future funding of all services.”

Before the extension was announced James Parmenter, a self advocacy group facilitator at Impact Initiatives, said: “The six self-advocacy groups for people with learning disabilities and autistic adults in West Sussex are vital in ensuring that the voices of these marginalised communities are heard.

“They each have huge benefits to their members, the communities they represent and to Sussex as a whole.”

Meanwhile Deena Stockdale, team leader for the issue based advocacy service, which is also part of the contract, said: “As a manager of the service for over 16 years I am fully aware how this service can be a life line to many disadvantaged people living in West Sussex.

“People that use the service tell us that without the support of an advocate their life would have spiralled into crisis with nowhere else to turn.”