Friday 30 November 2012

Full Steam Ahead to New Contracts, Parliament and an Early Christmas!

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works after a week's break, and what a lot of things have happened since my last entry, from new software testing contracts to a mention in the House of Commons! For me though, the highlight was a revisiting some of my happiest childhood memories with a thrilling steam train ride along the East Coast Mainline from York to London King's Cross!

Sharon Hodgson
Following on from the partnership that Autism Works established with Camasco in October, the company is embarking on a new testing contract and just last week, to our surprise, we heard the company's name mentioned in Parliament by Sharon Hodgson MP during a debate about autism and the Autism Act 2009,and to my own surprise, I heard my own name mentioned! Highlighting the National Autistic Society's Undiscovered Workforce campaign, Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West and a Shadow Education Minister, talked about the efforts made by Autism Works to develop degrees of flexibility to make recruitment processes more autism-friendly. Mrs Hodgson, who previously came to visit Autism Works in 2010, not long after the company's inception and also attended the 2011 ESPA Graduation, made a very strong contribution to what was a lively debate. To see the Hansard transcript of this debate, click on the following link and scroll down to 6.28pm

As I write this entry, today is the last day of November. Normally, I don't like to do too much Christmas-related stuff until the beginning of December, but this year, Christmas has already come a month earlier, as I fulfilled a childhood dream of being steam-hauled down the East Coast mainline! Those who have read my first book and as others may have gathered from previous blog entries, may well know ho much I enjoy train journeys, including the train journeys to places where I am giving talks, seminars and workshops, but this experience was special. Though I have previously travelled on steam-hauled journey's on preserved heritage railways, this was my first ever mainline steam-hauled experience. The 'Tynesider Special' was hauled by A4 Pacific 60009 Union of South Africa, from the same class of steam locomotives as the famous 4498 Mallard, which holds the official world record speed for steam traction, reaching 126mph on 3rd July 1938. The moment Union of South Africa arrived at the platform at York Station, I felt like a child on Christmas Day! Christmas also came early for the children on board when Father Christmas and his elves came around handing out presents The atmosphere on board the train, with the Christmas decorations in old-fashioned carriages, was really run as the smoke flew past the windows!

60009 Union of South Africa at King's Cross, London
Steaming down the East Coast mainline, Union of South Africa passed Stoke bank just past Grantham, around where Mallard broke the record, doing a steady 80mph, before making a brief stop in Peterborough to take on more water, where Mallard had to be replaced after its record breaking run after one of its cylinders overheated. The best part of the day though was when just about all the passengers including myself, after getting off the train at King's Cross wanted to shake the driver and fireman's hands after such a great run!

Alongside providing employment, one of Autism Works other aims was contributing to enabling better quality of life to adults on the autistic spectrum. As readers of this blog may remember, last year, I took a city break to Prague with Dan Cottrell, one of Autism Works first two Software Test Analysts. Dan also accompanied me on the Tynesider Special for what was his first visit to London in ten years, which I was surprised about. Making use of out time in London, we visited the British Museum before being diesel-hauled home. For Dan, who has been with us for nearly two years, Autism Works has certainly been an eye-opener not just professionally, but also socially. Be sure to keep following this blog to find out about our next adventure - a Christmas weekend break in Brussels. Don't forget also to keep circulating the following link to my Kilimanjaro challenge to raise much needed-funds for Daisy Chain at

A huge thank-you to the Rt Hon Sharon Hodgson MP for highlighting our work in Parliament and her continued interest in ESPA and Autism Works. Special thanks also to the Railway Touring Company for their fantastic hospitality on board the Tynesider Special, and for 60009 Union of South Africa, a performance to be proud of! 

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