REACCHing for the Sky

When Mary Pittman and husband Paul were looking to live in the beautiful Tamar Valley and establish a specialist plant nursery, they may have been thinking that the peace and serenity of our Cornish Countryside would be a treat for just themselves.

However, when they viewed Roundabarrow farm, with its jaw dropping views across the Tamar Valley, Mary’s heart began to burst with conviction that the derelict barns could house a long held dream of hers – a purpose built centre to give young people with autism every chance to show off the amazing potential that is within them.

The organisation she founded, known as REACCH ( Roundabarrow Employability for People with Autism and Communication Challenges) , is now a centre of excellence in promoting the TEACCH approach to autism, which Mary, as a senior lecturer in training special needs teachers, and a teacher herself for many years, believes is one of the best approaches to helping young people and adults living with autism survive and thrive in the neuro-typical world. TEACCH works by using structure to help minimize difficulties and maximise strengths.

REACCH now has many proven and positive results, helping young people who are really struggling to destress and begin to build trustworthy and safe relationships again.

The programme is uniquely geared towards an individual young person’s talents and interests – so currently offers photography, animal husbandry, horticulture, building, woodwork skills, cookery, design, jewellery making and IT and furniture restoration.

And what is so amazing is that the young people can see how their efforts are directly changing their environment as they have helped build and decorate the spaces themselves.

Mary and her Deputy, Sandra Souness who lives in Saltash, along with a wonderful team of staff, are committed to finding ways of securing meaningful employment and long -term purpose for all their students and trainees. Sophie, Jordan and Joe are now training as Tutor Assistants for REACCH, ex-student James  has gone on to become the third best plastering apprentice in the country, John has a work placement trial about to start at Babcock doing office administration, and Joe is entering the world of self-employment as a furniture restorer, with a workshop onsite. Some young adults remain at REACCH if this is what is appropriate for them. These adults support the work of the project in so many meaningful ways, so everyone’s strengths and skills are valued.

The centre is run by a committee of staff, trainees and students, and Mary’s long-term goal is that it will ultimately be run by others including adults with autism themselves.

The world needs to see the tremendous talents of those with ASC. Recently the photography students exhibited at the Tamar Valley Centre, and the students deserve more opportunities to showcase their craftsmanship.

If you are interested in any aspect of REACCH’s work or wish to support them, do contact them so you can attend a visitors’ day and see many of the quality crafts they make which are for sale, as well as calendars and cards featuring original photographs. Perhaps the incredible atmosphere will help to destress you too.


First published in Love Saltash – December 2018

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