The 'unsung heroes' caring for people with autism in Leeds during Covid

A sister who has been unable to visit her brother for more than a year has praised the 'unsung hero'  care workers who go  the extra mile for adults with autism in Leeds during Covid times.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 29th March 2021, 9:54 am
Rachel Baggaley's brother Christopher pictured at Ashlar House in Chapel Allerton with Ashlar House interim manager Stacey Danby (right) and care operations manager Katie Turner. .Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Rachel Baggaley's brother Christopher, 63, has autism and has lived at Ashlar House in Chapel Allerton for 30 years.

Rachel, 61, lives in Switzerland and in normal times returns to the UK several times a year to visit Christopher at Ashlar House, which is run by charity Leeds Autism Services.

But she hasn't been able to travel to visit him for more than 12 months during the pandemic.

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Rachel Baggaley pictured with her brother Christopher.

Christopher spent weekends with his mum and dad Sara and John before their deaths aged 78 in 2014 and 85 in 2017 respectively.

Rachel said staff at Ashlar House, which is a permanent home for seven adults with autism, have made sure she has had regular Skype calls with Christopher.

And they have ensured Christopher has been able to continue his routines, including going out for a cappuccino each day - even if it has sometimes just been in the garden.

"These are tiny things, but they make such a difference to him." said Rachel. "It is a real highlight of his day to have a cappuccino.

"I was so worried about Covid because he has these incredible routines.

"It is just such a relief to know that the staff at Ashlar House keep him and everyone else safe and happy . They are just total unsung heroes."

Rachel spoke to the YEP ahead of World Autism Awareness Week, which started today (March 29).

She said: "It is not just a job to them, they have really put their heart and souls into supporting everyone at Ashlar House.

"I am sure I speak for many of the relatives of people with autism in wanting to thank the often unsung carers that have made such a huge difference to people like my brother."

Around 26 full and part time staff work at Ashlar House on Potternewton Lane.

Stacey Danby, interim manager at Ashlar House, said: "It has been difficult because the people we support have not been able to do all the things that they would usually do."

"We have had to think of different and creative ways to support them so that they are feeling happy and content and are safe, despite the current restrictions."

"We started weekly cooking sessions, where individuals could cook their favourite foods that they would usually eat out in the pub.

"We have encouraged going out into the great outdoors and being more in touch with nature for them to get their daily exercise in different ways to how they would have previously.

"Being outdoors seeing, smelling, touching and hearing nature has helped provide them with much needed sensory stimulation.

"Staff have gone out of their way to go to other supermarkets to buy specially requested items when doing their own weekly shop.

"Without the dedication of the staff throughout the pandemic we wouldn't have been able to provide such a high level of support to the people we care for."

Leeds Autism Services currently employs a total of 85 staff and helps 65 people with autism.

The charity provides community support along with educational and day services at centres in Hunslet and Armley.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

The National Autistic Society says one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

The YEP is running a series of stories each day during World Autism Awareness Week as we focus on the lives of people in Leeds with autism.

For more information and to contribute to charity Leeds Autism Services, go to www.las.net.uk

For more details on World Autism Awareness Week, go to www.autism.co.uk