Autside and Mi-space win at the CIH Welsh Housing Awards!

Team Autside, along with our wonderful partners at mi-space, a contractor that specialises in the social housing sector, were nominated for a Welsh Housing Award 2018 for our collaboration in developing and delivering training to the housing sector to increase understanding of and support for Autistic tenants and their families.

We are absolutely thrilled and overwhelmed to announce that we won in the category ‘working with other sectors’.

It’s difficult to know where to begin in describing the journey to this achievement, and how incredibly joyful we were with the result.

Firstly, as anyone who knows Donna and I of Team Autside will know, we aren’t in this business for the glory, or the awards. We are in this business simply because we are incredibly passionate about Autism and neurodiversity, about learning as much as we possibly can, and about sharing that knowledge and training with as many people across as many settings as we possibly can, and about improving the lives of autistic//neurodiverse people and their families in any small way we can accomplish.

That being said, we were incredibly honoured to be nominated, and both extremely nervous on the night! Our category was the first up of the night which was pretty lucky as we were jiggling in our seats and twisting our hands in anticipation – partly due to wondering what the outcome would be, and partly due to the nerves that if we did win we might trip onto the stage!

We were of course seated at the mi-space table, with our staunchest supporter Matt Howells, Helen Manning and other mi-space representatives, as well as the lovely Sara Harvey, National Strategic Lead for ASD Info Wales – thanks for being there Sara, your commitment to engagement with the community and improving our lives means so much to us, more than you know.

The Vale Resort was absolutely beautiful, particularly given it was adorned with beautiful decorations inside and out in readiness for the festive season. The awards room ceiling was strung with fairy lights and the surroundings were plush and elegant.

The night was kicked off with an extremely emotive and powerful speech by the president of CIH Cymru, Mr Jim Strang, who shared his story and the personal and moving reasons why he had decided that the President’s charity appeal would support the efforts of Welsh Women’s Aid, simultaneously issuing a call to arms for housing professionals throughout the sector to utilise their unique position to support those suffering Domestic Violence.

The remainder of the evening was hosted by Gwynne Jones and Michelle Reid. I have to say, I initially thought Michelle was a professional compere/comedian, she was absolutely hilarious and entertaining throughout. My personal favourite anecdotes were when winners were posing for their pictures, her comedic suggestions of which magazine/paper they might be for, the best of which had to be ‘Pigeon Fanciers Weekly’!

The awards were broken into three parts, in between which starters, mains and desserts were served. The food and service was again lovely and seamless. There were various talks peppered throughout including from the Future Generations Commissioner.

Anyway! I’ve gone off piste a little!

Donna and I anxiously waited as the first award was called, and when mi-space and Autside were announced as the winner we were absolutely chuffed! In fact for the remainder of the night we had absolutely ‘’no chill’ as we carried around, stroked and admired the beautiful glass award. I’m not sure poor Matt even got to hold it although none of this would have been possible without him – sorry Matt!

We got to say a few words each when we collected the award and through the haze of nerves I cannot remember exactly what they were. But the sentiment was that we are incredibly grateful to mi-space for recognising the importance of Autism and related conditions in the course of their work, for engaging us to collaborate and develop truly robust training that will increase understanding and support, for supporting us in our passion and vision for the training throughout, and generally being the nicest, most supportive clients we could have wished for. We thanked them for shining a ‘spotlight’ on Autism and related conditions in the housing sector that has already led to wider recognition and an ever increasing list of housing professionals requesting our training. We thanked the wider housing sector for truly being receptive to our work and following mi-spaces lead in committing to equality and support for their Autistic clients and anyone with disabilities and specific needs.

We went through the evening in a bit of a blur, bumping into our new friends at First Choice Housing Association, and seeing more familiar faces from 1BH (One Big Housing conference) where we presented at Llandrindod Wells in October. Lots of photographs and lots of smiles, giggles and excitement from myself and Donna which didn’t seem to subside, much to the amusement of our fellow table attendees.

Mi-space had sponsored a photo booth for the event which resulted in much hilarity as some of the photographs will illustrate!

I can’t say I ever expected to be so engaged in the housing sector, but I have to say this, now that I have been I don’t ever want to leave – they are a kind, compassionate and forward thinking crowd, who show innovation and commitment in meeting all the needs of all of their tenants/clients, in many cases we have seen above and beyond the call of duty. It’s refreshing to see things just work, and people get the support they need. In addition to work hard, they also know how to play hard, a fun and friendly bunch of people that are always a pleasure to be around. This was no stuffy awards gala but a fun engaging event, even if each table did need to be allocated ‘noise police’!

So after telling you all more than you ever wanted to know about our evening, let me also tell you this.

It was nice to win on a personal, professional level, of course. But more than that it was a beacon of hope. In a community that is often underrepresented, overlooked, struggling for support and services and facing daily battles against societal barriers this award felt like a step forward. It increased the conversation. It said yes, we see you, and we want to help. It said that the Welsh Housing Sector stands with us, recognises our challenges and specific needs and is ready to invest in breaking these barriers down with us. It was motivation to think that maybe, just maybe, two ladies from south wales with passion and a dream, and the right people on our side, can actually make a difference. And that the difference might be bigger than we ever imagined.

Thank you Welsh Housing. Thank you mi-space. Thank you to the amazing Matt. Thank you to my wonderful partner Donna. Thank you to both mine and Donna’s families for supporting us on this scary, consuming journey. Thank you for something that is at first glance a very pretty engraved piece of glass (and great visual stim!), but that embodies so much more. It is a symbol. That we are in the right place, that we are pursuing the right things. That there are good people in the world that will support us and enjoy our joy and exhilaration in every step forward (Matt I’m looking particularly at you!). That we need to keep pushing and fighting. That the world can change, can be made better for the Autistic community. Maybe one home at a time.

Emma – Team Autside xx

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