News & Events

Walk for Autism funds Health & Wellbeing Project

Posted on 10th March 2023

Thanks to Walk for Autism autistic people in Blackpool are working alongside a wellbeing expert to improve their health and activity levels

Sam Shakeshaft works as a Local Health and Wellbeing Lead in Blackpool. Working directly with autistic people, Sam’s specialist role was funded by Walk for Autism, an annual campaign raising funds for autism projects across the UK and Ireland.

In this rewarding role, Sam is responsible for leading wellbeing projects for autistic people across our services. When Sam took on the role in 2021, his first priority was getting to know the people we support, building rapport with them and understanding their interests.

This specialist role focuses on improving the quality of life of individuals. This includes all aspects of life, from mental health, to emotional and physical wellbeing. Sam’s carefully planned activities are designed to encourage movement and develop social connections.

Since taking on the role, Sam’s caring nature and warm personality have made an amazing impact on those he works with. Sam takes the time to listen to every person with autism as an individual and builds relationships to understand different perspectives.

Sam said: “The best part of my role is the change we see in people. The groups give people something to look forward to and massively benefit mental and physical wellbeing.”

One of the most successful projects so far, Sam leads a football group in his local area. The group now has over eight people attending regularly, with more coming along to watch. Support workers also look forward to the sessions and enjoy the sense of community.

Sam has encouraged those taking part to take ownership of the football group. One person has taken the lead by designing the football kit, and others have developed self-confidence by taking on leadership positions in the game.

Sam shared: “Our football group allows people to connect with each other and experience new things. People enjoy the football, but they’ve also created really good friendships and become more open to trying new activities.”

As an exciting day out, the group recently visited Tranmere’s football pitch to watch a game, which was a memorable experience for everybody.

One person who attended said: “Sam is just so natural with people, he just puts everyone at ease. The event was about more than just the football, it was competitive to make it enjoyable, but you could see that wasn’t just the point, it was just about everyone having a nice time. He’s such a nice person and you can see that it’s real.”

Additionally, Sam has organised more trips tailored to individual interests. This included a hiking trip to Malham Cove, a Harry Potter film location. On another occasion, Sam planned a trip to a model plane museum, which encouraged another person to share their personal interest with others in the group and helped them to feel listened to.

The time Sam has spent planning and setting up activities has provided people with a sense of belonging and ownership that they didn’t have before. Those attending the groups have been encouraged to develop useful leadership skills, take on independent responsibilities and now feel a stronger sense of purpose and connection.

The impact of Sam’s role has enhanced quality of life for a number of autistic people. Sam described one person’s journey: “One person we work alongside was really shy and we’ve managed to take time and build rapport with them to help them develop socially. Since coming along to a group, he has now become more engaged and developed leadership skills. He’s willing to talk to people now and feels listened to.”

This year, Sam plans to continue introducing more wellbeing projects. He has plans to learn more about gardening, plan a camping trip and even attend a wildfire course. As his role continues to develop, Sam hopes to link wellbeing groups together across the UK.

Sam says that making the move to work with Autism Initiatives was one of his best decisions. “It’s great having a career where you see the things you do make a positive difference each day. I feel valued by Autism Initiatives and am so glad I took up this position.”

If you’re looking for a rewarding role like Sam’s, check out our jobs portal for vacancies in your area.

Support Walk for Autism and help fund life changing projects Find your rewarding role with us today
  • Football sessions
  • Supporting people one to one
  • Out for a hike