A young man with autism from Newtownabbey recently picked up the employee of the year accolade at a prestigious awards ceremony.
Chris Campbell (26) was awarded Employee of the Year at the Social Enterprise Northern Ireland Awards in recognition of his work with the NOW Group.
Chris has autism himself and became involved with NOW when he left full time education and was searching for a job.
NOW Group is a social enterprise that supports people with learning difficulties and autism into employment through training and securing work placements.
Chris had been working with NOW to look for a job when an opening with the organisation became available; he applied and has been working there as an Administration Assistant since 2014.
Chris is a valued employee, however the outstanding contribution he has made to NOW Group is in the capacity of his voluntary role setting up and chairing the Fandom group.
It was following a conversation between Chris and other staff members in relation to a lack of services for adults with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) that the idea of Fandom came about.
Fandom is a social forum for young adults who are socially isolated and have a high functioning form of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, the group meets in The Hive, a city centre space run by the NOW Group.
The group has been running for two years and meets on a Wednesday evening to socialise and carry out activities based around their interests in comics, videogames and movies.
The aim of the group is to provide an opportunity for members to meet over common interests offering a safe space where they can make new friends and identify and challenge barriers they may face living within their communities.
There has been considerable interest in group since it was established in 2015 and it quickly reached its membership capacity of 20 members.
The positive feedback from Fandom members is testament to the impact it has had on their lives. One member explained: “I would have found it hard to walk into a room like this and make friends before, it is easier now.”
Another member of the group said: “Everybody here laughs with me, not at me.”
Since establishing Fandom, Chris’ confidence and leadership skills have grown considerably. He hosts the Wednesday meetings which always begin with a group catch up led by Chris. Through his personal determination and support from his mentors at NOW this is now effortless for Chris which has a truly significant impact on Fandom members.
Chris’ work was recognised at the Social Enterprise Northern Ireland Awards at their annual awards night at the Stormont Hotel when he was awarded Employee of the Year.
Speaking about his win Chris said: “I am still taken aback that I won the award. I set up Fandom because I knew from my own experience that there weren’t many places for young adults with autism to socialise. I wanted it to be a safe place where people could make new friends and socialise together. I’m really pleased that it has been so successful and we have been able to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”
For more details about NOW Group, check out www.nowgroup.org, @NOW_Group on Twitter or facebook.com/nowgrouporg