Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, visited our Roebuck Day Opportunities Centre in Hastings recently to find out more about our work and how we support people on the autism spectrum who attend the Centre to learn new skills, connect with others and feel valued. 

Aspens’ CEO Robbie Shanahan and Manager Paula Taylor met with Ms Hart to show her around the Centre, introduce her to the people who attend the sessions and show her some examples of the items we produce for sale to the community.

The meeting came about further to an appeal to politicians, commissioners and funders from Robbie Shanahan earlier this year, asking for increased funding to help us recruit and retain staff and to invest in our skilled workforce of social care keyworkers in recognition of the hugely important role they have.

Robbie Shanahan pointed out his concerns around funding for social care to Ms Hart, especially with the increase in National Insurance and the cost of living and the impact this will have on the charity. He emphasized the importance of support and greater understanding of the social care sector and the role it plays in society, from all politicians and how the sector needs wider recognition and shouldn’t be viewed as the ‘Cinderella service’.

Ms Hart explained that she has an autistic nephew and has witnessed the huge impact this can have on individuals and families, and said she was particularly passionate about projects that helped equip those on the autism spectrum with the skills to enable them to find paid work.

Paula Taylor explained how the Roebuck Centre supports the people who attend through a bespoke service, tailored to the individual needs of each person. She described how the activities offered, which include graphic design, animation, metalwork, music and baking, make the people who attend feel valued and supported, and how this is of particular importance after the COVID pandemic, when many of the people the charity supports felt extremely isolated and experienced higher levels of anxiety.

Ms Hart spent some time chatting with the people who were taking part in the activities at the Centre. She looked in on a Unique Perspectives graphic arts session as well as baking and metalwork activities. Liam told Ms Hart all about his plans for writing a book and Catherine played Ms Hart some wonderful songs on her violin.

Ms Hart was very impressed by Roebuck’s enterprise projects, and with the wide range of items that are produced by the people who attend; such as ceramics, chutneys, cakes, jewelry and accessories and how these are then sold to the public.

She expressed the importance of the people who attend feeling they are contributing to something that has value in this way and how this would equip them with skills and helps them transition into the workplace.

Sally-Ann Hart said: “It was a pleasure to visit the Roebuck Centre and to learn more about the absolutely crucial work that it does to support people on the autism spectrum. This support includes helping them learn new skills, connect with others and feel valued - all of which is so important. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and found the activities, the staff and the people attending the Centre inspirational, and I look forward to visiting again soon.”

Robbie Shanahan said: “A huge thanks to Sally-Ann Hart for taking the time to visit our Roebuck Centre and find out more about how we support and empower people on the autism spectrum and with learning disabilities. We hope that Ms Hart will help us to raise awareness about the important issues facing us, and the social care sector as a whole, as we strive for the best possible future for the people we support.”