To date, the charity has raised more than £500,000 through sponsored bike rides and other charity events. It is now looking at its most ambitious project so far – funding an Autism Centre of Excellence in Manchester.
Ex-Coronation Street star and Boyzone singer, Keith Duffy, said: "Autism affects development and, while there is no ‘cure’, there are a range of effective treatments which can have a real impact on the condition. The centre that Hearts and Minds are pushing for will be one of the best of its kind in the UK, and will provide children with autism and their families with a real boost. It will equip youngsters with the experiences they need to allow them to continue their education in a mainstream school and provide a great start in life."
The centre will initially school 25 pupils, aged three to 11. Comprehensive evaluations for each student will be carried out to identify their personal strengths and needs, and bespoke programmes will be developed and tailored to each individual. All classrooms will have five pupils with one teacher and two teaching assistants. The centre will also offer an on-site occupational therapist and two speech and language therapists, who will work closely with the children. As well as working on academic skills, they will encourage the development of the pupils’ social and verbal abilities. The centre will also provide family counselling, training for parents and training for emergency services personnel on the best way to approach the autistic people they may encounter in their work.
Hearts and Minds is still searching for a suitable location for the school. Once this is in place and an opening date has been agreed, the details will be made public so that interested parents can register their children for places.
Ian McGrath, founder of Hearts and Minds, said: “It’s an ambitious project, but one we believe can be delivered. We have lots of different events coming up over the next 12 months and there are many ways for people to get involved and help raise funds. Our aim is to demonstrate that early intervention can be beneficial to young people with autism, not only does it make a big difference to the children it also makes a big difference to their future and we hope this approach can be rolled out nationwide."
Rik Waddon, Paralympic cyclist, said: “The children and families supported by the Hearts and Minds Challenge are a true inspiration to me. The charity is such a worthy cause and the school in Manchester will make a real difference to so many families here in the North West. I’ll be supporting all the fundraising efforts and following the progress of the sponsored cycle ride next year."
You can watch ITV's coverage of the launch here:
Today, Paul Scholes and Keith Duffy confirmed that they will be joining the Hearts and Minds team for the Cycling Buddy Charity Challenge, a sponsored 4-day 300 mile bike ride from Malaga to Gibraltar in May 2013.
The Hearts and Minds mobile phone recycling scheme also raises funds that will go towards the school for autism. Families can exchange 165 old phones for an iPad.
If your child needs an iPad please check out Hearts and Minds:
This scheme began in Ireland: http://www.autismirelandphones.ie/