Autism NI, Mencap and SELB - joint working for young people with learning disabilities

Joint working can provide a more holistic service to beneficiaries. This case study provides an example of the process of planning and carrying out a project across organisational boundaries and some of the resulting challenges and benefits.

The collaborative project

The partnership started as a conversation between Autism NI and Mencap. Both organisations realised the potential of the provision of summer schemes for two different age groups of children and young people with learning disabilities (with an IQ above 70) and who had been finding it difficult to engage in school or local activities.

“There was provision of summer schemes for children and young people with learning disabilities, but not for children with ASD with IQ’s over 70. The aim of this partnership was to increase provision to include children and young people who fell outside the current provision. When it got to the presentation stage with the Big Lottery all the other partners where naturally keen for us to represent the unique and unmet needs of children and young people with Autism alongside the effective specialist interventions that would be implemented by the project.”
Arlene Cassidy, Chief Executive,
Autism NI

Mencap was involved from the very early stage of the project alongside Autism NI and Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) prior to a bid for a development grant from the Big Lottery. The funding totalled £997,788 and was awarded for five years.

In total there are three partners working together on the project, Mencap, the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) and Autism NI. Mencap has the lead role and manages the day to day needs of the project. The role of the Education and Library Board is to negotiate partnerships with local schools that provide premises and facilities for the summer schemes to run, and to ensure schools make referrals to the summer schemes. Advantages to the schools are that they can identify young people who might benefit, and the school would become a positive association for the young people.

While Autism NI plays an important role in this partnership, they are not involved in the delivery of it, but rather provide tailored autism training for summer scheme staff. As well as providing expertise on autism, Autism NI provided resources for the partnership meetings.

“Autism NI traditionally supports existing providers to develop their expertise, service design and provision of services for Autism. We brought expertise to the table to help develop the project.”
Paula Hanratty, Director Family Support, Autism NI

This is only one of the many outcomes achieved through this partnership. In 2010/11 the organisations worked with three schools, however this year they have increased their provision to six schools.

“The first three schools that we started with have continued this year with the summer schemes. We aim to increase this to nine next year.”
Paula Hanratty, Director Family Support, Autism NI


The establishment of the summer schemes took 18 months from the initial conversations which took place at a fundraising event. Monthly meetings are held and facilitated by Autism NI. In the first phase of the project there were huge amounts of emails, phone calls and shared paper work. Two members of the senior management team in Autism NI worked on the initial stages, contributing to the proposal and budgets for funding.

“There was a massive amount of work at the start; very time consuming. At this stage it is not as frantic, it has settled into a rhythm.”
Paula Hanratty, Director Family Support, Autism NI

As part of the development grant, Mencap recruited a project coordinator and administrator to oversee the delivery of the project. During the initial meetings the design of the summer schemes, the target audience and the allocation of funding was discussed. Once the schemes were established regular meetings were held to review the success of the schemes and how they could be further developed. The role of each organisation was discussed and it was established that another part of the role of Autism NI is to increase the awareness of the project.

What went well?

The relationship between Mencap, SELB and Autism NI worked really well.

“We have been involved in partnership working before with other organisations. We are therefore sensitive to the difficulty of adjusting to cultural differences that need to be negotiated through. This process was easily addressed with Mencap. All organisations adapted readily to the cultural differences of each other’s organisation, utilising their strengths.”
Arlene Cassidy, Chief Executive,
Autism NI

Autism NI believes that one strong element of the partnership is that the organisations do not work together for purely financial reasons.

“We worked together to provide a service which was lacking, not to chase funding. In fact one unexpected outcome has been that both Autism NI and Mencap have built on this experience and are now involved in a partnership project that involves relocation of premises to create a Community and Family Support Hub with other agencies.”
Paula Hanratty, Director Family Support, Autism NI


One challenge for Autism NI was that Mencap’s focus was on individuals with learning disabilities, while Autism NI focused on individuals with autism.

“Mencap’s world is learning disability, while our world is Autism Spectrum Conditions, so the understanding in terms of who the project was targeting took some work. Mencap had to become more conscious of our service users, and we of theirs.”
Paula Hanratty, Director Family Support, Autism NI


The three organisations had a long lead in time which they felt was beneficial to building their relationship.

“We had a good lead in time which was great with regards to developing relationships. I would recommend this, where possible. We were lucky that the funder for the project had included a developmental phase for the work.”
Paula Hanratty, Director Family Support, Autism NI

Every effort is made to ensure that the contents of this document are accurate, but the advice given should not be relied on as a definitive legal statement.