AROUND 400 walkers gathered at a North-East park today to celebrate the return of a popular event organised by an autism charity.

The annual Walk for Acceptance, organised by the North East Autism Society (NEAS), has had to be held virtually for the past two years due to Covid-19.

However, it returned to Herrington Country Park, at Sunderland, this morning and was a huge success, marking the culmination of the charity’s month-long calendar of events in celebration of Autism Acceptance Month.

“The walk is always our biggest event of the year, both in terms of fundraising and raising awareness, so it was incredible to see so many people coming together again after three years away,” said Kevin Meikle, NEAS Fundraising Manager.

“As a charity, we passionately campaign all year round for better understanding, awareness and acceptance of autism, and it’s great to see so many local people getting involved and helping us to champion that message.”

The North East Autism Society, based in Chester-le-Street, was founded by a group of parents in Sunderland in 1980 and has hosted its annual Walk for Acceptance, formerly the Walk for Autism, for more than a decade.

The sponsored walk, which raises funds for NEAS’s frontline services, was officially opened at 11am by ITV legend Pam Royle, who was recently unveiled as one of the charity’s patrons, and NEAS CEO John Phillipson.

“It was a huge honour to become a patron of such a wonderful charity, and I’m thrilled that my first official duty was to start the Walk For Acceptance,” said Pam, who was the face of North-East television for nearly 40 years.

Mr Phillipson added: “Everything we do at the North East Autism Society is geared towards improving the lives of autistic people and their families, and we know that one of the ways we can do that is by improving society’s understanding – and of course, acceptance – of autism and neurodiversity.

“That’s why today’s event is so important, not only does it help to spread our message of autism acceptance across the region, but it shows just how much we can all achieve if we come together from a place of understanding and simply embrace the things that make us all different and unique.”

Today’s walk is just one of a number of events the charity has hosted this month, as well as working with schools, businesses and individuals across the region to offer education, advice and support around autism and neurodiversity.

Other key events included the official opening of the charity’s Teesside school, the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre, in Middlesbrough on April 1st. While key landmarks across the North-east also lit up gold during Autism Acceptance Week (March 28th - April 2nd) in support of NEAS.

Following today’s walk, the charity has one final event to bring the month to a close as NEAS will be hosting its second virtual Acceptance Matters Conference on Thursday, April 28th.

The conference boasts a panel of autistic speakers who will share their lived experience, knowledge and professional expertise on topics including: masking, neurodiversity and cults, and autism and ageing.

For more information on the conference, or to register to attend, visit: