A “unique” initiative to help people with autism live independent and active lives is to open its first base – in Otley.

The not-for-profit community interest company Specialist Autism Services aims to begin providing a range of courses from the former Westgate Surgery, which it has converted, on Tuesday, March 12.

The opening of the group’s first full-time Autism First centre follows a successful, four-year run of the scheme in Leeds which delivered creative, vocational and life skills courses to adults with Autism Spectrum Condition.

Specialist Autism Services’ director of operations Helen Hall said: “This is a unique and innovative project which specifically addresses the autistic needs of adults on the autism spectrum.

“It has proved extremely successful and we are now opening our first branch of Autism First at the former Westgate Surgery, in Otley.

"Otley was chosen due to the structure and layout of the premises, the town’s accessibility from surrounding areas such as Leeds, Bradford and North Yorkshire, its idyllic setting, and the varied range of local amenities available to increase the inclusion of our members.

“We have successfully demonstrated the progression this client group can make through the right type and correct level of support, and this project will enable us to reach an increased number of individuals on the spectrum to achieve their aspirations.

“We have already received a warm welcome from Otley Town Council and Otley Courthouse, and look forward to working with other local community services and groups in the near future.”

Once up and running, the centre will be open five days a week, delivering services between 10am and 2pm.

The topics covered in the courses will include: l Social skills l Independent living support lCommunity involvement, and individual projects based on individual learning needs.

Helen added: “Our aim is to make a difference to the lives of the people we support, by providing an individually tailored, autism specific, person-centred programme.”

Specialist Autism Services was started in Bradford in 1999 to address the lack of services available for adults with autism, and particularly, Asperger’s syndrome.

An estimated 535,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with autism, a condition often character-ised by impaired social interaction and communi-cation, along with restricted and repetitive behaviour.

There is still no statutory funding provided for adults with Autism Spectrum Condition.