Autism Champions in Cumbria

Autism Champions are County Councillors who have chosen to promote local awareness of autism in their area, and champion the needs of autistic children, young people and their families. 

Our Autism Champions have been involved in helping many of our libraries achieve Autism Friendly status, regularly give awareness talks in their communities, and are helping to make Cumbria County Council a good place to work for current and future neurodiverse employees. They have also been a local point of contact for people who may need help or advice and are unsure where to go. 

Here is a little more about each of our current Champions:

Christine Bowditch

I am delighted to be the elected Champion for Autism on behalf of Cumbria County Council following Task and Finish group which clearly identified the need for this role in Cumbria.

I am a sitting Councillor.

I have been the Chair of Carlisle Mencap for 25 years of its 50 year existence in Carlisle, moving from a small group of parents to being the third largest in the country serving a range of disabilities, including more frequently than ever autism.

I am a former teacher in charge of a unit for disabilities attached to a mainstream school where I introduced inclusion into the school. My husband is Chair of another disability charity in the area and was formally Head of James Rennie Special school in Carlisle.

Most importantly I am the mother of a son on the autism spectrum which gives me the passion to develop the role of Champion in the Carlisle district, seeking to enhance autism awareness across the area and work on behalf of individuals or groups who seek my support.

Christine Bowditch contact details.

Mike Hawkins

Following concerns raised to Councillors about the difficulties people living with autism were experiencing in Cumbria, it was decided after a successful task group that each district of Cumbria appoint a member as a champion.

With the aim of the role to promote an awareness of the condition to the wider public and to champion the rights of Autistic people and improve the facilities we offer as a Council.

I was pleased to be made the champion for Copeland as I have a 24 year old son who is autistic, so I have lived through many of the problems that people and in particular young parents are experiencing, this role will help me to support people, raise awareness and improve the lives for the people of Copeland and Cumbria living with autism and I look forward to working with the other champions across Cumbria.

Mike Hawkins contact details.

Andy Connell

I am honoured to have been elected as Eden Local Committee's Autism Champion on behalf of Cumbria County Council.

In 1997 one of my triplet children was diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome at the age of eight. My daughter's diagnosis was good for her as it enabled her school's excellent SENCO to meet her needs more effectively and helped her to understand herself and others.  It was good for me too, not only within the family but also in my own job as a secondary school teacher; all sorts of issues became more comprehensible. I took time to read up on autism, attended courses and developed an understanding of the condition, which benefited me in my role as a parent and teacher and also enabled me to support colleagues. As conditions on the autistic spectrum gained greater recognition and acceptance both in education and in the world of work, my knowledge and understanding has been invaluable.

I very much look forward to fulfilling my role as Autism Champion for Eden Local Committee and working with the countywide team to share work and ideas that benefit children and adults living with Autism.

Andy Connell contact details.

Celia Tibble

I am delighted to join my colleagues as the Autism Champion for Allerdale. 

Since retiring from my career as a Psychiatric Nurse I have joined the Board of West House, an organisation which provides support for Children and Adults with Learning Difficulties and Challenging Behaviour , in North Cumbria. 

I also have 2 grandchildren who have been diagnosed with Autism so have experienced some of the challenges faced by families accessing support for loved ones and the difficulties of being a full time care giver. 

I am confident that the move by Cumbria County Council to appoint Champions for Autism will do much to strengthen the services on offer to families and individuals whilst also raising awareness in the community. 

Celia Tibble contact details

William McEwan

It was an honour for me to be selected to be Autism Champion for Barrow. After taking part in a Task and Finish Group on Autism it gave me an insight to the problems parents of children, and adults, have to deal with daily. 

So, with being a Champion I can help with some of their needs; I was delighted when I had the opportunity to get an Autism Friendly area in our main Library in Barrow. Since the Library has now had a complete refurbishment it now has its own Autism Friendly Room.

I now look forward to doing my best, to getting more done, and helping where I can as Barrows Champion, and look forward working with the other Champions 

Bill McEwan contact details

Mark Wilson

My interest in being a Champion for Autism is based around the research on Neurodiversity which has taken place over the last 30 years. We now have a greater understanding of neurodiversity with much more support available than there used to be.  

Most families in the UK will now know someone or have a family member who is diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum.

Families bringing up children who become young adults, then adults making their way in the world, know of the hard work and effort it takes, answering questions appropriately and finding ways to help children and adults thrive.

Cumbria as an Authority has worked hard to assist families more and more by listening to their needs and implementing schemes and networks that improve the situation for each person living with Autism. 

The County Libraries and Schools are key venues that can support families with equipment or access to Health Teams who can provide more information or propose learning or more detailed interventions if required. 

The County is also in the process of setting up specialist schools and accommodation where young adults might be taught to access employment as they grow up.

This County is in learning mode and seeks ideas from those who wish to question and assist this process. I welcome that.    

Mark Wilson contact details 

Cumbria Autism Champions FAQ's

If you have any suggestions for FAQ's please contact your local Autism Champion.

The Autism Champions group brings together elected County Council Members to promote local awareness of autism in their area, and champion the needs of autistic children, young people, adults and their families. The group is supported by Officers from specialisms across the County Council who contribute to helping the Champions achieve their priorities.

  • The Autism Champions have been meeting as a group since 2018 and provide regular updates to their Local Committees. Local Committee meetings and agendas can found on the County Council website.
  • The Autism Champions support Autism Awareness Week - view the 2021 press release
  • When Cllr Bowditch, Autism Champion for Carlisle, was Chair of the County Council in 2019-20 she abseiled down Carlisle East Fire Station raising funds in support of Carlisle Mencap! 
  • The Autism Champions have supported pop up equipment for Cumbria Libraries, Tiny Tablets for interactive play and a Tovertafel at Carlisle Library. 
  • Were involved in the development of a County Council Neurodiversity Policy for managers and staff, and neurodiversity eLearning modules. 
  • Given awareness talks to local community groups, frontline staff and Parish Councils.

The Autism Champions Group is made up of six elected members, one representing each of the Local Area Committees for Cumbria County Council. The elected Autism Champions are supported in their role by a Community Development Officer from each of the local area teams. The Autism Champions group is chaired by a Strategic Policy and Scrutiny Advisor who oversees the workplan and priorities agreed by the Member Champions. 

  • All Autism Champions are elected Members of the County Council. Their duties are to represent the people that live in their area and provide a 'bridge' between them and the Council.
  • Each Champion carries out their role by raising issues with relevant services, and signposting to information, help and support.
  • Autism Champions cannot overturn decisions already made by the County Council, including where Officers make decisions within agreed Council policies. They can influence the review of policy and recommend changes.

The Member Champions are keen supporters of the Autism Friendly Award that is run by the National Autistic Society. The Award helps to recognise businesses and public services that have demonstrated they have taken steps to make their business a more welcoming place for autistic people and their families. 

More information on the Award can be found on the National Autistic Society website.

  • Cumbria Libraries was the first library service in the country to work with the National Autistic Society to offer a specialist collection of books and DVDs about the condition. The collections are entitled, 'Autism? Your questions answered'. These collections are located in Barrow, Carlisle, Kendal, Millom, Penrith, Whitehaven, Workington libraries. 
  • All County Council staff are required to complete equality and diversity eLearning as part of their essential learning, which includes a module on neurodiversity. Further training available to staff may be relevant to their roles, and Tier 1 Understanding Autism eLearning is available to all.  
  • The County Council has adopted a neurodiversity policy for managers, which includes reasonable adjustments available to employees and employee passport.

The Cumbria Local Offer website lists many autism support groups that are based in our communities for families and children and young adults up to the age of 25.  

The Adult Support Directory also lists services available in communities.  

Alternatively your local Autism Champion will be able to name groups in your area.

Contact details for all elected Autism Champions in the six districts of Cumbria can be found on Cumbria County Council's Autism Champions in Cumbria webpage.

  • Autism Champions are Elected Members of the County Council and any organisation or individual can make contact with them for initial help and signposting.
  • A school can make contact with the Autism Champions if it is appropriate and can assist with their query.

The Cumbria SEND Local Offer website is a central information point for families with children and young people aged up to 25 years of age with special educational needs and/or disabilities. This site has pages on transition and preparing for adulthood, which includes options after leaving school. 

There are also projects and services around Cumbria that help young people with additional needs to access employment, including but not limited to Right2Work and Café West. Triple A also currently run an Inclusion @ Work project.

The Autism Champions do not provide an advocacy service. They can signpost to existing advocacy organisations who can offer in depth support. Please see the list of organisations below:

People First

Autus Cumbria

Cumbria Safeguarding Adults Board

Autism Support Cumbria

The Government website lists current policies; the most recent policy paper is the National strategy for autistic children, young people and adults: 2021 to 2026.

The National Autistic Society is a leading policy think tank on autism where you can find out more about their campaign work.