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Autism Empowerment Conference Round-up

Updated: Jan 23

Taking place 12 – 7pm, we hosted an array of speakers, workshops and stalls on the theme of Empowerment. It was a popular event, with a total of 55 people joining us on the day: mainly autistic adults, as well as professionals and parents.  

We chose the theme of Empowerment to reflect One-to-One Enfield’s aims. Our conference aimed to support people to live better lives through access to relevant information and services; to give a platform to autistic voices; and to improve autistic experiences and inclusion in our community.

Our team of staff and volunteers helped the day run smoothly, catering to individual needs and making it a warm, safe space to listen and share. We were proud to welcome inspirational speakers in the form of Dean Beadle, Josefine Mytil, Meera Vasudevan and Helen Baeckstroem. It was a pleasure to have The Mayor of Enfield, Suna Hurman, open the conference for us and be an active participant, as part of her work with autism charities this year.

Ben Wakeling masterminded a group art project and Esther Miltiadous taught us the benefits of the Alexander Technique. Helen filled us in on the Enfield Autism Strategy and there was a stimulating and informative Q&A on Late Diagnosis featuring a neurodiverse panel of Dean, Amanda Hind, Bee Bentall and Ed Shearer, as well as fabulous engagement from the floor.

Images of the collaborative artwork pieces, click to expand and see more detail

At the same time, we ran 15 minute appointments for the confidential discussion of welfare and benefit issues, as well as an information marketplace with representation from One-to-One, Enfield National Autistic Society, Riverside Engage Enfield, Bread n Butter, Enfield Voluntary Action, the Enfield Council Welfare Advice and Debt Support Team, Enfield Disability Action, Autism Central Hub, and Citizens Advice Enfield.

The conference was a team effort, and a long time in the making. Preparation, which began in May, included publicity and an awful lot of logistics. Its ultimate success was down to the hard work of our staff, volunteers and collaborators. Their commitment to getting it right really shone through, and we learnt some useful lessons about organisation too.

It was clear early on that there was a strong community interest in the event, with people arriving in their droves and quickly signing up to the workshops. Delicious and inviting sandwiches and cakes brought everyone together in the main space, with staff making sure they were comfortable and ready for the event proper.
Dean made a powerful keynote speech, full of humour and insight. Many who are not autistic themselves commented that it made them aware of some aspect of the condition they had been oblivious to.

Dean Beadle's Keynote

The benefits advice was well received, as was the cost-of-living session and the opportunity to have consultations around it throughout the day. There were some illuminating contributions to the Autism Strategy session and related workshops, where everyone was validated and given space to be heard. Their concerns will be taken into account as it is developed.

Autism Strategy session

The Late Diagnosis Q&A went down a treat. There was an honest sharing of lived experience and perspectives, which sparked meaningful conversations and connections. For all their depth and invaluable anecdotes, we only had time to scratch the surface of what our panellists had to offer, and will certainly be seeing more of them in the future.

Late Diagnosis Panel L-R: Ed Shearer, Amanda Hind, Bee Bentall, Dean Beadle

The art workshops were the most popular activity, the result of which was the creation of eight vibrant, original pieces, in which everyone played a role. Though the Alexander technique sessions had limited capacity, we heard very good things from those who attended for a calming session to find ease in body and mind. We were happy to offer goody bags packed with stationary, useful information and even a Shumei Natural Agriculture tea bag to everyone who walked through the door.

An impressive 55% of attendees filled in an evaluation form. This is great because feedback enables us to do an even better job next time. It was encouraging to hear that the vast majority of people found the workshops ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ helpful. Some appreciated the organisation and variety of discussions, whereas others cited being amongst their peers as a highlight. Self-regulation sheets allowed participants to manage their state of mind in a busy environment.

Delegates liked having the agenda available in advance, the fact that sensory toys were provided, the range of people and speakers, and having a comfortable place to network. There’s been a call to have a bigger venue next year, and we did suffer with a temperamental microphone / PA system. It’s also been suggested that a livestream of the conference would enable a wider audience to engage.
It was noted that we could have stressed the link between volunteering and employment more, perhaps by having speakers tell their own stories. Better accommodation for people with sensory issues and the representation of autistic parents were also raised as areas for improvement, but we’re thrilled to report that 95% of respondents would recommend the event to others.

The conference was nothing if not empowering. There was an undeniable community atmosphere, especially as this was our first face-to-face conference post-lockdown. We’re looking forward to the next one in June 2024 (TBC), which promises to maximise on what we’ve learnt, and deliver an all-round top-quality service and experience to One-to-One friends and associates. We’re keeping an open mind when it comes to a theme, but the evaluation shows some thinking around participation, communication and mindfulness.

Thanks again to our funders Enfield Council, to all who attended, and everyone who contributed to the conference’s success!

By Joe Marshall, with contributions from Dean Beadle, edited by Bee Bentall
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