Dagenham charity bids farewell to autism awareness pioneer

Alex Rowley with Barking MP and Sycamore Trust UK patron Dame Margaret Hodge, who has known his family for many years

Alex Rowley with Barking MP and Sycamore Trust UK patron Dame Margaret Hodge, who has known his family for many years - Credit: Sycamore Trust UK

An autism awareness pioneer has bid farewell to the Dagenham charity that helped him as a child after 11 years of providing support to others.

Alex Rowley has been a key member of Sycamore Trust’s award-winning Autism Ambassadors programme since 2011, but has been involved with the charity on Woodward Road for more than 20 years.

He has now moved on from Sycamore, where his mother went for support when he was eight years old, after recently being accepted to the Met Police graduate trainee programme.

Sycamore Trust chief executive Chris Gillbanks, who has known Alex and his parents for two decades, had "very mixed emotions" about Alex leaving.

She said: "I have known him for nearly 20 years and watched him evolve from a shy boy who struggled with many social events to the intelligent, articulate and independent man we see today.

"I am extremely proud of what he has achieved and the opportunity he has created for himself."

Alex was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a five-year-old; his mother was told by an education professional that he will never finish school, get a job or have friends.

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However, he overcame shyness and low self-esteem and went on to earn a degree and a masters in education and applied linguistics at The Open University.

Since September 2011 Alex has worked on Sycamore’s ambassadors' programme, writing, designing and delivering CPD-accredited autism awareness training to schools, libraries and not-for-profit organisations in Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge.

He and his father completed a 90-mile sponsored walk last April to raise more than £500 for Sycamore during Autism Awareness Week.

In December, Alex and his colleague Robert Lamb won the Michael Brooks Award - recognising an organisation or group that has made an outstanding difference to the lives of people with disabilities - at Barking and Dagenham International Day of Disabled People.

Ms Gillbanks added: "Alex has been instrumental in setting up the Autism Ambassadors as well as giving his own unique support to clients at the autism hub and he will be hard to replace.

"I would like to wish him luck in his new venture and hope he will continue to raise the flag for autism awareness."