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Chief Executive Designate North East Autism Society

North East Autism Society is a dynamic and innovative charity supporting autistic and neurodivergent children, young people and adults across the North East. Come and join them as their new Chief Executive Designate as they enter a new and exciting chapter.

  • Location: Chester-le-Street, County Durham
  • Salary: c.£115,000

At North East Autism Society, we have been empowering and supporting autistic children, young people, adults, and their families for over 40 years. We are committed to understanding the interests, aspirations, and dreams of each person who we have the privilege to support.

We provide a range of services including a further education college, four schools, a vocational training farm, social and vocational programmes, employment services, family workshops, toddler groups, online support services as well as a range of residential homes, supported living arrangements and luxury short breaks lodges.

We have a strong reputation across the region for outstanding quality of care, education and innovative services. We are now seeking an exceptional Chief Executive to build on this success and take us forward to our next exciting chapter.

Service users from the North East Autism Society take part in various activities across the North East Picture: DAVID WOOD

Who we are looking for

With prior leadership experience in a social care/health/charity environment of comparable scale and complexity, our Chief Executive will be an inspirational people leader. They will have the drive and passion to provide exceptional leadership across the organisation, and the strategic nous and vision to consistently horizon scan and capture new opportunities.

It is critical that our Chief Executive is collaborative and brings a proven track record of leading a multi-faceted organisation, developing positive working relationships and motivating a top-quality and effective workforce. You will subsequently demonstrate an ability to empower, support and encourage people to effectively deliver as a team across the organisation; promoting an inclusive, open and transparent culture and drawing on the outstanding expertise of our team.

In addition, you will bring a proven track record of leading first-class person-centred services and the highest standards of care. With a sound understanding of local authority commissioning, safeguarding, SEND and regulatory frameworks, you will be confident navigating your way around health, education and local authority funding. You will also have a successful track record of developing strong relationships across a complex stakeholder environment.

Overall, you will be able to build outstanding internal and external relationships, develop collaborative opportunities, be a hands on, visible, agile, resilient leader who is comfortable taking creative risks.

Above all else, you will be emotionally intelligent and intrinsically values driven; demonstrating a clear commitment to the core values and mission of North East Autism Society.

For further information about the role, or to arrange a confidential discussion, please contact our advising consultants at Peridot Partners:

Lucy Mavers | lucy@peridotpartners.co.uk 

Madeline Blair | madeline@peridotpartners.co.uk 

Lucy Mavers Head of Not-for-Profit Practice Peridot Partners

If you would like to know more about this role please contact Lucy Mavers

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Welcome from Gavin Bestford: Chair of Trustees

Dear Candidate,

I am delighted that you are interested in becoming the next Chief Executive of the North East Autism Society.

We have been providing innovative and personalised support for autistic children, young people, adults and their families for over 40 years, and our commitment to ensuring that all autistic people fulfil their potential remains at the very heart of everything that we do.

Our organisation was first established as an unincorporated association in 1970, by a group of parents of autistic children who were determined to provide them with a better future. By 1979, parents had raised enough funds to open our first school and in 1993, the Society was incorporated and registered as a charity. Today, we provide services to autistic and neurodivergent children, adults, and their families throughout the North East, with an annual turnover of £30 million and currently 1,060 employees and increasing.

To what do we attribute this success? For me, it stems from the fact that we continually put our service users and their best interests at the heart of the organisation and in every action which we take.

This will be only our second Chief Executive appointment; the first having been in 2005. when we appointed the present incumbent, John Phillipson to the role.

In his 17 years with us, John has been a dynamic force for the charity, driving massive change and development in which we have invested over £25 million in numerous capital and service developments.

We now operate from over 50 properties across the region which includes four schools, vocational training centres, children’s and adult residential homes, adult independent living homes, children’s and adult short breaks, family support and development, and employment services for adults and young people. In addition to all of this, we continue to significantly develop our social media campaigns and online family resources.

Our latest plans include the development of our 77 acre farm in County Durham which is currently used as a Vocational Training Centre for adults and as the site of our Adult Short Break service. It will see us create a new enterprise space comprising of cider-making facilities, a café, communal area and retail outlets. The project will also aim to address a gap in needs around the sustainable integration of young autistic and neurodivergent people into the labour market through supported internships, apprenticeships and employment skills training/employment. We aim to run this as a Social Enterprise, which will be breaking new ground for our charity.

Other key priorities in coming years are to:

  • Build on our expertise in supporting children and young people in their learning
  • Develop our partnerships with local authorities to allow pupils to access a broad and balanced curriculum within their own communities
  • Facilitate the transition of more adults in hospitals and other institutions to supported living in their own homes.

So while our current Chief Executive, John, is clearly going to be sorely missed when he retires next year, we are all open to the new possibilities a new leader will bring, and we are excited about the next chapter of our story.

We need a Chief Executive who looks constantly to push the boundaries of what is possible for autistic people and finds ways to create and support these opportunities in a sustainable way.

As a Board of Trustees, we try very hard to remain true to the aims and hopes of our founders; many of us are parents of children with autism, myself included, so we have experienced first-hand how our charity changes lives. We expect our new Chief Executive to lead our organisation by example with our core values underpinning their approach. What I, and my fellow Trustees can promise is that once strategies have been set and agreed, our Chief Executive will be given our full support and the resources they need to manage and develop our operations. Whilst we will honour our responsibilities to question and scrutinise, we will give them the space to manage and to shape our services for the future. The fact that John has served for over 17 years in the post more than demonstrates what this job has to offer.

Thank you for your interest and I hope this inspires you to apply.

Kind regards,

Gavin Bestford
Chair of Trustees

About North East Autism Society

Service users from the North East Autism Society take part in various activities across the North East Picture: DAVID WOOD

Founded in 1980 by a group of parents who came together to establish Thornhill Park School in Sunderland, the North East Autism Society grew out of a desire to provide a better standard of education for autistic children.

Having remortgaged their homes to purchase the building, our founders were dedicated to helping autistic young people fulfil their potential – and that commitment remains at the heart of everything we do.

Since the 1980s, Thornhill Park School has become firmly established as a major regional and national resource. This led to further developments for ‘Children’s Services’ to offer year-round residential care for autistic children. Our care and educational staff work together to provide a 24-hour programme of development, particularly in social skills, communication, and leisure.

Our services were extended in 1994 with the provision of Adult Services to provide educational and vocational programmes to adults over the age of 19 years.

Today, as we near 1200 staff, our services include a further education college, four schools, a vocational training farm, social and vocational programmes, employment services, family workshops, toddler groups, online support services, as well as a range of residential homes, supported living arrangements and luxury short breaks lodges.

We established a range of Family Support Services in 2009 which are provided seven days-a-week in the local community and are tailored to meet the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Our impact

It is only through putting the individual at the centre of our planning that we can customise our work to reflect their tastes and ambitions. Our role is to provide the support which will enable each person to achieve success at a level that is appropriate.

Our work begins with an in-depth assessment of need for each child, young person or adult who is referred to our services. As we come to know that individual, and to understand how and why they may react to different situations, we can begin working together with that person, with their family and key supporters, to develop a person-centred plan. This plan will set out the individual’s needs and wishes both now and for the future. It will also clarify the specific support needed for that person to achieve their specific objectives. No two plans are the same, and there is no attempt to make the person ‘fit’ the service.

Our job is to ensure that we provide just the right support to enable each child or adult to grow and develop according to their aspirations.

What we believe


‘Working together to inspire, support, celebrate and equip autistic and neurodivergent people to fulfil their potential in life.’

North East Autism Society

Our core values

To help us achieve our mission statement we have four core values underpinning our practice:

  • To have our learners and those accessing our services at the heart of the organisation
  • To operate a fair, respectful, and honest culture
  • To strive for the highest quality
  • To operate with integrity

In practice, we believe that ‘excellence’ for an autism-specific service stems from a total commitment to the individual. Recognised for our innovation and excellence, everything we do stems from an unswerving belief in providing bespoke person-centred support. It’s at the heart of who we are to recognise the uniqueness of every human being, and to understand that no two autistic people, or in fact any humans within an understanding of neurodiversity, will have the same needs or wants. We passionately believe that autistic children and adults have significant skills and strengths, which can be developed throughout their lifetime.

Our approach aims to support individuals to participate in society as independent and valued citizens, enjoying equal rights and opportunities but also enriching the world around them.

Our beliefs

Several key beliefs underpin our work and inform the decisions that we value in planning services:

  • Autistic people will continue to develop skills and strategies throughout their lives. As an organisation we can demonstrate positive outcomes for autistic children, young people and adults.
  • Autistic children and adults have significant strengths and can use these to continue to learn and develop skills that enable them to participate in society as independent and valued citizens, enjoying equal rights and opportunities.
  • We will further develop an eclectic and flexible approach utilising the unique personalised resources and approaches necessary to support the development of individual skills.
  • Through working alongside autistic children, young people and adults we will empower them to contribute and be consulted realistically on every aspect of their lives.
  • Consultation through listening to people who use the service and their representatives is key to effective and evolving services.


North East Autism Society, Cedar Drive site in Newton Aycliffe Picture: DAVID WOOD

As an employer, North East Autism Society (NEAS), are proud to be a Disability Confident Leader particularly due to the nature of our organisation, supporting vulnerable children, young people and adults by:

“Working together to inspire, support and equip people with autism and other examples of neurodiversity to fulfil their potential in life.”

We promote our Disability Confident Leader status, marketing case studies on literature, website and social media; this informs employers and partners and encourages participation in the scheme.  

Website accessibility

We are committed to providing a website that is accessible to the widest possible audience, regardless of technology or ability. We are actively working to increase the accessibility and usability of our website and in doing so adhere to many of the available standards and guidelines. This website endeavours to conform to level Double-A of the World Wide Web Consortium W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

These guidelines explain how to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. Conformance with these guidelines will help make the web more user friendly for all people. This site has been built using code compliant with W3C standards for HTML and CSS. The site displays correctly in current browsers and using standards compliant HTML/CSS code means any future browsers will also display it correctly. Whilst we strive to adhere to the accepted guidelines and standards for accessibility and usability, it is not always possible to do so in all areas of the website. We are continually seeking out solutions that will bring all areas of the site up to the same level of overall web accessibility.

In the meantime, should you experience any difficulty in accessing our website, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

If you have any further needs around accessibility, please get in touch with the advising consultants for a confidential chat on how we can best fulfil your needs.

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    Thank you for your interest in this role.

    Please download the Role Description and Person Specification and complete this Equality Monitoring Survey.

    To formally apply, please submit a CV and supporting statement (ideally maximum 2 sides of A4 each) that clearly outlines your suitability for the role against the criteria provided in the person specification, including your interest and motivation in applying for this position.

    Please ensure that your application is emailed to response@peridotpartners.co.uk inserting “North East Autism Society – Chief Executive Designate” into the subject field.

    For further information about the role, or to arrange a confidential discussion, please contact our advising consultants at Peridot Partners

    Lucy Mavers | lucy@peridotpartners.co.uk 

    Madeline Blair | madeline@peridotpartners.co.uk 

    We wish to encourage applications regardless of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, pregnancy or maternity, age or religion or belief.

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    Applicants with a disability are invited to contact us in confidence at any point during the recruitment process to discuss steps that could be taken to overcome operational difficulties presented by the role, or if any adjustments or support are required regarding the recruitment process.


    Closing date: Monday 21st  November 2022
    Candidates informed of outcome: Friday 25th November 2022
    First stage interviews: w/c Monday 28th November 2022
    Shortlist decision: By Friday 2nd December 2022
    Informal staff/service user/stakeholder sessions: Monday 5th December 2022, Tuesday 6th December 2022 and/or Wednesday 7th December 2022
    Second stage interviews: Thursday 8th December 2022 or Friday 9th December 2022

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