A CHARITY that helps people with autism was celebrating an early Christmas present this week – a cheque for £10,000 from the Guardian.

Autism Networks was awarded the money from the Gannett Foundation, to create a sensory room at its Prince Albert Street centre in Crewe.

Gannett is the parent company of Newsquest – owners of the Crewe and Nantwich Guardian – and awards grants to local charities every year.

Mick Rimmington, projects co-ordinator for Autism Networks, said: “It is amazing to get this money. It will make such a huge difference to us to be able to afford to get a sensory room which is properly and professionally built. We want to thank Gannett for the grant.”

Autism Networks was established in 2002 by John Hannon, who formerly worked for the national Autistic Society.

“We identified a need for a local branch so myself and some volunteers set up the Crewe branch,” he said. “We’ve wanted to create a sensory room since then!”

Around 60 people – aged three to 40 – attend the centre every week with their families for support, advice and social events.

The centre caters for people with conditions across the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s Syndrome and other related disorders.

People don’t need a diagnosis to attend.

“It can be time-consuming getting a proper diagnosis, sometimes it can take years but you don’t need that to attend the centre,” explained Mick, who has studied autism at degree level.

“Ninety-seven per cent of people with conditions across the autism spectrum suffer from sensory issues, so a sensory room is a nice, relaxing, calming place where they can go to relax.

“It will make a huge difference to a lot of people.”

The branch is hosting an autism conference at Crewe Alexandra football stadium on February 12 next year to raise autism awareness.

l Anyone who would like information about the group should email admin@autism networks.org.uk or log on to autismnetworks.org.uk.