Reg. Office:   North House, Ferrybridge Lane, Sunderland,  SR5 3RL, England

Tel:             +44 (0) 191 516 5080

Fax:            +44 (0) 191 549 8620



ESPA is a Registered Charity (1037868) and is also a Company Limited by Guarantee (2909953). It provides residential, day, and other support services which directly benefit over 200 persons with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs)

Trustees:     Paul Shattock;  Malcolm Hooper;  Phil Moxon;  Rita Jordan; Stephanie  Robinson;  Graeme Young. Trustees meet regularly with senior staff and other professionals for formal decision making processes. Chief Executive Officer :    Lesley Lane

History:   The Charity was originally founded in 1988 as Communities for Autistic People (CAP) by a group of parents of young adults and supportive professionals living in the North East of England. In 2002 the name was changed to ESPA (European Services for People with Autism) in order to indicate our interest in collaborating with and assisting in the development of services in the rest of Europe. In 2008 we changed our name but retained the acronym (ESPA) by which we are better known.

We aim to provide individualised programmes which are very varied, flexible, progressive and adapted to the needs, abilities and wishes of the individuals. We provide a very wide ranging à la carte menu of services ourselves and make extensive use of external provision and community services where appropriate. Services are designed on a “pick and mix” system to suit the needs and aspiration of each person.

ESPA provides a continuum of high quality, specialist, residential, further education , day and domiciliary services designed specifically for individuals with an autism spectrum condition and related disabilities.

Ashleigh (College) Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

ESPA College

ESPA College provides education for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 with an autism spectrum condition (ASC). The college has been open since 1995 and currently provides programmes of study for almost 100 students.  ESPA College is committed to providing a high quality autism-specific educational experience to enable students to maximise their potential for future life, well-being and work.

We use a range of imaginative and varied teaching strategies to meet the unique needs of students with an autism spectrum disorder. Each student has an Individual Living Plan (ILP) to meet their own learning goals. Individual support and guidance is provided for each student including 1:1 support when required. Our qualified and experienced staff team has extensive knowledge and skills in supporting students with ASD. All students also have access to ESPA’s multi-disciplinary team if required.

The programme starts in September and follows a 38 week academic year. Day and residential places are available and students may study for up to 3 years.

ESPA College offers day and residential places. It consists of three day sites and two Halls of Residence, one of which is registered to provide support with personal care.

Day Sites: 

North Rye, Newcastle;   South Hill, Sunderland;  Tasker, Sunderland.

Halls of Residence:  

Ashleigh, Newcastle (Registered);    Westfield, Sunderland.

Each day site offers a unique learning experience. The Halls of Residence provide an extended curriculum and enables students to further develop their practical, independence social and communication skills both within the building and in the community.

ESPA Residential Services

ESPA has a wide range of residential services in Sunderland and Durham for people with an autism spectrum disorder. Each service is unique and individually tailored to meet the needs, wishes and expectations of the individuals living there. These services range from single person apartments to shared living arrangements.

Most of the people ESPA supports have challenging and complex needs. Many individuals also have additional or associated difficulties or disabilities. Therefore all our services offer intensive and specialist support in highly structured autism specific environments. ESPA develops and delivers behavioural programmes based on non-aversive principles and interventions.

Supporting individuals to understand their autism and overcome some of their difficulties with communication, social understanding and imagination underpins every aspect of the services we provide. The social and behavioural support provided by staff enables each person to enhance their quality of life and extend their range of learning opportunities and new experiences. For some people our residential services provide an excellent stepping stone towards a more independent future.

Person centred planning and ongoing consultation ensures that each person enjoys a full and active life of their choice within their home and community. Individuals receive structured and consistent support from highly experienced and knowledgeable staff.

ESPA employs the services of Consultant Psychiatrists, Speech and Language Therapists, Behaviour Specialist and Trainer, Consultant Psychologist, Occupational Therapist and Dietician. The multi-disciplinary team supports the work of our staff as well as working directly with individuals. They are committed to providing a highly flexible and responsive service.

Everyone ESPA supports enjoys taking part in a wide range of social, leisure, recreational, educational and vocational activities within their home and community. This increases people’s opportunities to achieve a lifestyle of their choice, develop new skills, and make new relationships.

Each person also has the opportunity to attend The Croft Centre where they can participate in the wide variety of creative and expressive arts and social and leisure activities according to their interests and wishes. In addition to The Croft Centre’s excellent facilities people also regularly access community activities and events.

The Croft Centre

The Croft Centre is a creative and innovative community service providing person centred programmes of activities for people with an autism spectrum disorder.

It provides each person with a wide range of social, leisure, recreational, educational, pre-vocational and vocational opportunities based upon their specific needs, interests and wishes. This is a dynamic service user led project and through the Events Committee and peer consultation the programme of activities and events consistently responds to participants changing wishes and expectations.

Individuals are supported to participate in their preferred activities, by staff who have the skills, knowledge and experience to provide high quality autism specific support, in a safe and structured environment.  Activities and options include:  Dance and movement ;    Mask making;     Puppetry;       Soundbeam; Digital Story telling;     Music;     Performing Arts;     Pottery;     Drawing and painting;     Café work experience;     Baking;     Pre-vocational training;    Conservation work;    Sensory room;     Screen printing;     Photography;     Sculpture and model making;     Jewellery making;     Fabric painting;    Sewing;     Hair and beauty;     Massage;     Aromatherapy;     Woodwork;    Gardening and growing vegetables;     Independence training;     Educational activities;     ICT.

In addition, individuals enjoy a variety of community activities including; swimming, trampolining, snooker, cinema, archery, snow tubing, wall climbing, cycling, visits to exhibitions, events and places of interest, shopping, farming and conservation, theatre, pubs and country walks. New activities are constantly being introduced.

The Croft Centre also hosts many birthday parties and social events throughout the year and runs fund raising events for ESPA and other charities. It also puts on exhibitions at various art galleries to and performances which celebrates the talents of our artists and performers.

ESPA Transition Service

Transition is a term that can be applied to many changes in the life of a person but is usually restricted to the change from children’s to adult services. This is a very for all of us but is extremely difficult for people with an autism spectrum condition. We have developed three new services which are specifically designed for those requiring highly specialised support to make the most positive step in their lives.

Leavers develop a much more independent lifestyle with consequent reductions in reliance and cost to funding agencies.

The service can begin to support children from the age of 14 to make this gradual  transition to adult life.


 ESPA Domiciliary Agency

ESPA Agency is committed to providing each individual with high quality personal care and support that is autism specific, person centred, flexible and responsive.  We aim to enable each person to live as independently as possible within their home and to fulfil their rights as citizens in their community.

Support can be provided into a person’s family home, their own tenancy or a house they share with friends or to access a range of community activities. Each person will receive an individual package of care and support to meet their assessed needs, wishes and aspirations and to enable them to enjoy a lifestyle of their choice.  We support people who are 18 years old and over.  The Agency can provide support for specific hours during the week up to 24 hrs a day. Sleep-in or waking night staff can also be provided.

The hours of support will reflect the person’s assessed need. The grade and experience of staff will reflect the persons needs and interests. All of the individuals supported by the Agency have an autism spectrum disorder. Many people also have additional or associated disabilities of difficulties, including sensory impairment or sensitivity, epilepsy, mental health problems, learning difficulties, challenging behaviour.

Training Events for Professionals

As a specialist provider we want to share our understanding and experiences with others who are involved in supporting, assessing or commissioning services for people on the autism spectrum.

We have developed a wide range of training courses from basic Autism Awareness to our intensive 4 day course for professionals, which has been quality assessed by Northumbria University.
Raising awareness of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and improving training for front line staff in health and social care has been identified as the vital first step within the Autism Strategy: Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives. Personalisation and person centred commissioning further increases the need for training to ensure that people with ASC receive high quality assessments and support from people who understand them and the impact that ASC has on all aspects of their life.

Autism Works

Autism Works is a wholly owned but largely independent company which aims to make a real difference to the lives of people on the autism spectrum by offering sustainable employment.

Our first venture has been a software testing company that positively discriminates towards employing people with ASCs. We recognise the many talents and skills people with ASCs can possess that are an asset and are valued within the commercial  IT world. These include:-

Attention to Detail;
Methodical Working;

We hope to be able to develop this programme and identify other careers where these characteristics are important assets.


ESPA Research

ESPA Research is another wholly owned subsidiary but has joined the WAO in its own right. ESPA Research is, therefore presented separately and not discussed in this monograph.

Other Features of ESPA

Although our service is available to all, we are very much a product of the culture of North Eastern England. From the day we started, we have received fantastic support from the general public; from the media; from elected representatives and local officials. We are proud to belong here and know that the region is proud of having this service. We, as an organisation, are immensely proud of and grateful to our fabulous staff. Most of all we are so proud of our students, residents and those we support. Their determination, inner strength, patience, desire, willingness to work and friendship are truly inspirational.

Through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme our students have accomplished things that we believed impossible. They frequently work and to raise moneys for those in need and are very aware of the needs of the environment. They have recently produced a C.D. of their own music (Autism4Heroes) which has raised a large amount of money for troops who have been injured in the Middle East.

If the rest of us showed the same qualities of goodness and effort in our lives the world be a very much happier and safe place.

ESPA actively encourages and supports the so called “Statement of Madrid” which states “No decisions about us, without us.”