The first ever drop in community cafe for people with autism in West London has officially opened in Ealing at St Andrews Church.
Ealing Central & Acton MP Dr Rupa Huq cut the ribbon to welcome residents across the borough along with Ealing Broadway Councillor Seema Kumar highlighting the importance of the project.
Set up by the London Autism Group Charity, the cafe takes place each month on the first Saturday of the month from 1.30pm to 3.30pm and the organisers say it is an inclusive cafe aimed at anyone with an interest or connection with autism and neurodiversity, including autistics, parents, carers and allies.
Behind the initiative is Jenny Teuten. Jenny’s brother Nigel is autistic and only got diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 56.
For Jenny, the cafe is something that is much needed for Ealing residents and long overdue.
Jenny told EALING.NEWS the idea started to be developed in November and in less than three months, they now have it up and running: “I spoke to the centre manager Marine who I knew from quite a while ago, and there was a slot available on Saturday afternoon, perfect time 1.30pm to 3.30pm once a month, and the charity loved the idea. And the team at London Autism Group have been so supportive. Everybody’s sort of pressed the fast track button. Everyone’s just come together on this.”
Jenny explained the difficulties of her brother Nigel being diagnosed and supported: “When he was a child, I don’t even know when autism was officially the first term that was used, but even quite recently, all the medics we encountered nobody considered autism. And it was actually a carer that came to look after my mother, who said I think your brother is autistic.”
“I was beginning to have my suspicions by then I’d read a book about it. And the boy in the book was behaving in similar ways to my brother. I asked the GP for a diagnosis and it took a while. There was nobody within the borough of Ealing who could do it, which in itself is incredible and hopefully, that’s changed now.
“And so with somebody outside the borough, down in Twickenham who eventually did provide the diagnosis, that was helpful in terms of it meant that the medics could understand my brother more because they hadn’t really done that before. He has seizures and they just dealt with the seizures, but didn’t really have any sense of what was going on behind the seizures. The anxiety, the issue, the mental health problems that accompany all this. So at least with the diagnosis, there’s a little bit more understanding now than there was before so that’s all good.”
Twelve years on, Jenny and Nigel are still not getting much support from Ealing Council or the local NHS.
Jenny revealed: “Never had support apart from a care home. Which I found they were the only people because at the time my brother was quite unwell. They offered two weeks of respite. So we lived there, but they didn’t understand autism. There was one woman who worked there and lovely woman who had an autistic son. So she had an understanding and she and she and Nigel had a lovely bond. And there was a wonderful care home manager who was willing to give it a go. And Nigel went there three times a week for about four years. And that was that was that’s the only support we’ve received.”
Jenny would like to see more support for those in the borough who have autism and getting support and helping raise awareness is something she would like to see Ealing Council do. “We know everyone is struggling for money. We know that. Putting on something like this does not cost an arm and a leg. It has such important physical and mental health benefits. I mean, I know I’m speaking from my own experience for me to meet other siblings, who had similar challenges is just a wonderful thing to tell you. It’s transformed my life. And so I know if it’s transforming my life, this could be happening across all of Ealing for many other people.”
“On just a practical level, they have their weekly bulletin which can inform people of the cafe. I was trying to get hold of their community communications department but could not get through. Just having these conversations doesn’t cost anything.”
On opening the cafe, Dr Huq said: “It’s really important that we have space for this. Jenny came to my surgery and she’s so infectious with her enthusiasm for the cause. Autism is not just something for children. She’s been looking after Nigel for a long time. Even in a neurodiverse world it’s not one size fits all. Even within autism people’s brains are configured differently. We all need more understanding tolerance and love. Please support this cafe and tell your friends and family.”
Ealing Broadway Councillor Seema Kumar applauded the initiative of the autistic cafe in her ward. “It’s the first centre in West London and it happens to be in this lovely, lovely church. Autism is important to me because I know how loneliness can affect people. And then it goes on to mental health. It’s just so complex and is something I’m very keen to support and as it is the first one, it definitely needs to be supported.”
Charity lead of the initiative, Dr Chris Papadopoulos told EALING.NEWS of the importance of having the drop in cafe: “It is massively important because autistic people and their families are some of the most isolated, lonely people you’ll you’ll come across. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. There’s a lot of rejection. So it’s important to build and create spaces like this where people can accept and understand and be empathetic and people can feel connected. This is what we’re trying to achieve. It’s trying to build what we call social capital, which is the idea that you feel socially supported.”
Dr Papadopoulos also said volunteers will play an important role to the cafe’s success and welcomes more people to help. “Yes, definitely more volunteers that have the right kind of values of inclusion and compassion is what we’re after, who can come and connect people, spread the word. You know, bring things and just be part of the part of the fun and enjoyment of it.”