Actress Nerys Hughes spoke movingly about the needs of young people with autism and Asperger’s as she formally opened Priory Coleg North Wales’s new college building.
She said she was "so proud that Wrexham has this new college" adding: "I know you have already had great outcomes with young people going to Wrexham College, university, and into employment which is made possible by the dedication and support of staff."
"It is hugely important we recognise the enormous contributions young people with Asperger’s and autism can make in our society given the right support. Priory Coleg North Wales does just that. It inspires students and launches fulfilling careers."
The event – which was reported on BBC News Online - was attended by Welsh Assembly Members as well as parents, carers and representatives of Careers Wales, Coleg Cambria and Coleg Gwent, local schools and hospitals.
Having outgrown its old site in Kings Street, Priory Coleg North Wales – a specialist co-educational college for students aged 16 to 25 – has relocated to Ty Dewi Sant, in Rhosddu Road, Wrexham following a £50,000 investment.
Principal Sandra Morgan said: "The site is stunning, is autism-friendly and no detail has been spared to ensure the best possible experience for our learners. The location is central to the town and the community in which we work."
Priory Coleg North Wales was adjacent to the Yale campus of Coleg Cambria. Nearly all Priory Coleg learners are following full-time courses with Coleg Cambria and have access to a wide range of courses provided by Coleg Cambria, across all sites.
Students receive both in-class and additional support from Coleg Priory where it is needed, including highly specialist teaching, speech and language therapy. They also have access to mental health support.
Ms Hughes – who became a household name in the BBC sitcom The Liver Birds - was born in Rhyl, Denbighshire and is also patron of Action for Children.
Cutting the ribbon at the new college building, she added: “I have a personal and deeply felt reason for supporting the staff and everyone involved in the college. I have several friends and a cousin whose sons have autism and I know they have had quite a battle to ensure their children have had the support and education to fulfil their children’s huge potential – many of whom are super clever.”
The Priory Group has been campaigning for more apprenticeships, internships and jobs for adults with autism.
Allison Hope-West, autism director at the Priory Group, has urged more companies to come forward, saying many adults with autism could fulfil satisfying roles in the workplace but were never given the opportunity to make their ambitions a reality. She said that "a lack of understanding among some employers of those with autistic spectrum disorders is a major hurdle to gaining employment".
The Priory Group of Companies includes Priory Education Services, which runs 22 schools and colleges providing education for more than 1,000 pupils, of whom around 800 are on the autistic spectrum.
Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction. According to the NHS Information Centre, around one in 100 adults has autism – a lifelong condition which affects people’s understanding of the world and their communication with others. The autism spectrum includes classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.
But with the right support, those with autism can lead rewarding lives, and many can be socially and economically independent. The majority of the over 300,000 working-age adults with autism in the UK want to work.
For more details on Priory Education and Children's Services, please call 0118 970 8068 or click here to make an enquiry.