An entrepreneurial mum who runs an inspirational blog and co-founded a social enterprise to help raise awareness of all things autism has been nominated for a regional award which recognises remarkable women in the North East.
The Life of Reilly CIC delivers adult and child-focused plays, workshops and courses to help educate and inform individuals about autism spectrum conditions. Christine, one of the co-founders of The Life of Reilly CIC has been nominated for a Glass Slipper Award in recognition of her status as a ‘remarkable woman’ and been invited to the regional awards ceremony on the 28th February at the Gateshead Hilton.
Christine Stephenson launched The Life of Reilly in 2016 in partnership with writer & actress, Alison Stanley and qualified counsellor, Kelly Best as a social enterprise dedicated to providing practical help for autistic people and their families. With assistance from the North Tyneside Business Factory, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the social enterprise created Life of Reilly, an adult-focused play featuring autistic and non-autistic cast and crew which entertains as well as educates about autism. They also offer school-based plays and workshops using the Really Reilly, Reilly High School and other plays about gaming addiction and the perils of social media as a dramatic platform to help open up discussions on autistic behaviour for school children.
The three women all have a child on the autism spectrum; Christine’s son Reilly is non-verbal and lacks any sense of danger, Alison’s son Jay is in mainstream education at South Tyneside College studying film and media and Kelly has an adult son who has recently graduated from University.
Christine Stephenson comments: “I’m delighted to have been nominated for a Glass Slipper Award. It’s recognition that the work myself and the team carry out is making an impact and it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
“When we first came up with the idea for The Life of Reilly, we wanted to use our varied life experience as parents to create interactive plays and training courses to help family members better understand autism. how to deal with situations and navigate the system.
“The plays have been a great success and use our own experiences to engage with audiences on a more personal level. The theatrical community has really embraced the show and the last showing of Life of Reilly at the Northern Stage was a sell out. The Really Reilly children’s plays are a constant source of inspiration to our team who are surprised and impressed by the questions asked by the audience. The quality and level of insight shown in the questions being asked highlight why you should never underestimate children!”
The Life of Reilly recently received some funding to run a series of grandparents sessions. Grandparents can often feel overwhelmed and uninformed, resulting in them feeling guilty and unable to provide much needed support. The workshops are designed to inform and network but also help signpost people to other supportive services so they don’t feel alone in their journey.
Christine continues: “Grandparents often play a huge role in the day to day childcare needs of a family and so we felt it was important to structure our courses to meet the needs of all those involved with autistic children. It is just one of the reasons we are looking to raise funding for a new counselling service to ensure to that we support families on a more personal level. Current waiting times are dire and can sometimes lead to months or even years for appointments so we would like to plug that gap as well as enhance public perceptions of those on the autistic spectrum.
“It was just one of the reasons that I created my blog, The life of Reilly. I needed people to know that they are not alone and help to raise the curtain on the challenges and successes of our daily family life. All we seem to do as Parents of autistic families is fight, for diagnosis, services, the right education. To know you aren’t alone in that is invaluable. It’s been read almost quarter of a million times worldwide and the message is the same wherever you are in the world, that we need to be more inclusive. Next step is a film, we are currently in pre-production and it is looking incredible, its natural progression and no better way to reach a vast audience, education is the key.”
The Life of Reilly is a Community Interest Company (CIC) and all revenues are invested back into providing supportive services to improve awareness and support surrounding autism spectrum conditions.
Toni Clark, Business Advisor at The Business Factory commented: “Christine and the team at The Life of Reilly work incredibly hard to provide a service to the community built around their own experiences of living with an autistic relative. Their detailed knowledge and understanding is clear to see and their passion to help has created a number of platforms to educate the wider public on a difficult subject. I’m delighted to see Christine recognised for her hard work in delivering this strong message to the public and wish them the best of luck.”
Christine also co-founded the charity North East Hearts with Goals with sister-in-law Kelly after losing her brother in 2003. That charity has gone on to save 21 North East lives.