This article first appeared in Ealing Today.

Rupa Huq has officially opened West London’s first ever community drop-in café for people with autism.

The Ealing Central and Acton MP cut the ribbon last week to welcome residents across the borough to the initiative to help combat loneliness within the autism community.

Set up by the London Autism Group Charity, the café takes place on the first Saturday of each month from 1:30pm to 3:30pm at St Andrew’s Church in Ealing. Organisers say it is an inclusive café aimed at anyone with an interest or connection with autism and neurodiversity, including people with autism, parents, carers and allies.

Jenny Teuten, of Hanger Hill, is co-lead of the initiative. Her brother Nigel is autistic and was only diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 56. For Jenny, the café is something that is much needed for borough residents and long overdue. She spoke of her frustration at the delays in Nigel getting an autism diagnosis, and the lack of support she says she has received from both Ealing Council and the local NHS. This is why initiatives like the drop-in café are crucial for people with or affected by autism.

Joined by Revd Sue McCoan and Ealing Broadway Councillor Seema Kumar, took cake and tea with visitors to the café and said, “I’m delighted to be opening this new space. Jenny came to my surgery and she was bursting with enthusiasm for the cause. Autism is not just something that children have. She’s been looking after Nigel for a long time. Even in a neurodiverse world it’s not one size fits all. Even within autism, people’s brains are configured differently. We all need more understanding, tolerance and love. Please support this café and tell your friends and family”.

Charity lead of the initiative, Dr Chris Papadopoulos echoed the importance of having the drop-in café. He said, “It is massively important because autistic people and their families are some of the most isolated, lonely people you’ll come across. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. There’s a lot of rejection. So it’s important to build and create spaces like this where people can accept and understand and be empathetic and people can feel connected. This is what we’re trying to achieve. It’s trying to build what we call social capital, which is the idea that you feel socially supported”.

He added, “Up to now, there haven’t been many clear opportunities for Autistics – and the wider autism community – to regularly come together in a safe, accessible, inclusive place so they can meet others, relax in a friendly and welcoming space. This is really important because autistic people, as well as family carers, can be very vulnerable to feeling isolated, misunderstood and not accepted. So this scheme helps push back against that by enabling people to connect, develop friendships, and get support”.

The next session will be running at St. Andrew’s Church in Ealing (Mount Park Rd, London, W5 2RS) on Saturday 4 March, at 1:30pm-3:30pm. It is entirely free, with biscuits, cakes, drinks and sensory toys available, and no pre-registration required.

The ActOne cinema in Acton is also offering a ‘relaxed screenings’ initiative with sensory-friendly film screenings for audiences with additional needs, including autistic and neurodivergent people. For more information click here.

Rupa Huq says she is “pleased that Ealing and Acton is leading the way in providing support for autistic and neurodivergent people and their families”.

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