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Life wins international award for ground-breaking autism partnership

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Life communications

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Life has won an international award in recognition of its innovative work with autistic communities.

Life received one of only two Mariano Gago Awards at the Ecsite ceremony in Heilbronn, Germany on 2 June. Ecsite is the European network of over 320 science centres and museums. The Mariano Gago awards encourage creative and impactful work within the sector.

Life is the first ever recipient of the Responsible and Responsive Award which was specifically created to reflect the response of Ecsite members to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Award recognises the partnership between Life and the North East Autism Society (NEAS) and their online support to the autistic community during this period. What started as a small Facebook group involving just six families, grew into a mass online programme with an audience of over 13,000. 
 
Life worked with colleagues from NEAS to create short videos showing accessible science demonstrations such as how to make a balloon-powered mini-car and experiments with chocolate. As interest grew, this developed into a sustained programme of videos and weekly Zoom chats which attracted increasing engagement. David Jones, Community Liaison Manager at Life, received the award at a ceremony attended by over 1,000 people. David said: “By the time the pandemic hit, Life had already forged deep bonds with the local autistic community and this relationship provided much needed structure, support and a sense of community for families during this difficult time.” 
 
The partnership between Life and NEAS began in 2018 and was supported initially through the Inspiring Science Fund, an initiative of the UK Government and Wellcome. Life began working with a small group of 10 families and the science centre quickly became a support hub for autistic children and their parents. Young people helped to shape the centre layout and the design of new exhibits. They helped in the planning and delivery of Relaxed Sunday Sessions (dedicated quiet time for autistic people) and helped create a range of materials including a ‘visual story’ – a downloadable photographic explanation of what to expect from a visit. In 2021, Life was presented with the  Gold Award for Autism Acceptance.
 
Linda Conlon, Chief Executive of Life said: “The Mariano Gago awards are the ‘Oscars’ of the professional science engagement world.  It is a massive endorsement from fellow professionals and we’re honoured to receive one.”  
Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London and Chair of the Ecsite Awards judging panel said: “This is a remarkable project that has touched our hearts as well as our heads. We were particularly impressed by the huge personal impact that the Life project has made for participants.   It has strong stable foundations and a legacy going forward”.
   
John Phillipson, Chief Executive of NEAS said: “It’s brilliant to work with people who are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of autistic people. We could never have imagined where the journey would take us when we started out four years ago.”
  
About the Mariano Gago Ecsite Awards  
The awards are named after José Mariano Gago, a key figure of European science engagement who died in 2015. The Mariano Gago Ecsite Awards encourage creative and impactful work within the informal science education sector. 

About the North East Autism Society (NEAS) 
For more than 40 years the North East Autism Society (NEAS) has led the way in providing autism-specific care and education for children, young people, and adults across the North-East of England. Recognised for its innovation and excellence, everything NEAS does stems from an unswerving belief in providing bespoke, person-centred support. It’s at the heart of the Society to recognise and celebrate the uniqueness of every human being, and to understand that no two people, within an understanding of neurodiversity, will have the same needs or wants. 
Through the work of its Autism and Neurodiversity Think Tank, NEAS remains committed to listening to and being informed by the very people they exist to serve.  
A short film illustrating the Life/NEAS partnership and its impacts can be viewed here.
 

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