The beginning of a blog, and the end of an era

How appropriate that the first post on my new blog comes at the end of an era. Today my friends, Polly and Jonathan Tommey, have arrived in the US with their family, for the beginning of a new adventure. I met Polly and Jon just a few years ago, having earlier watched their son Billy’s progress from afar. Billy was a little boy when I first heard about him. A very poorly little boy. Now, as he prepares for his move to Texas, he is a fine, healthy young man, looking forward to whatever comes next. So as a new era begins for the Tommey family, how inspiring it is that, just before they leave, Polly and her team launch a new initiative for the Autism Trust – Polly’s Place.

In the words of the team, Polly’s Place is a store (online from today and with a flagship store on Sunninghill High Street, Ascot) for supporters and people with autism to share their crafts and creations with the community, while generating income for the Autism Trust; people with autism working and earning for themselves, giving autism a chance. Polly will be back frequently to keep her eye on things at Ascot HQ, and on her daughter Bella (who is staying behind for now to complete her studies and keep her eye, in turn, on developments here). Whilst Polly is away, Polly’s Place, The Autism Trust and its various projects remain in the safe hands of Stephanie Lord and her team.

I travelled down from Cambridge to Polly’s Place for the launch on Saturday October 6th, with Wallis, a 9 year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, who was determined to meet Polly before she left for the States. After an entertaining drive (with SatNav directions from Homer Simpson and Status Quo filling the gaps, to Wallis’s delight) we arrived in Ascot on a sunny, fresh October afternoon. We were greeted by the fragrance, bustle and sheer wonder of Polly’s Place. Stephanie Lord and various members of the team, including Emily, Dave and Brenda, showed us around the premises – the offices, the work-place for people with autism, an impressive clinic/training room and of course, the shop. Ann Jones provided tea and delicious cakes and Lisa Galton brought the pink champagne. What a tribute to the efforts of Polly, Stephanie and the team over the last few months. Andrew Dobosz was doing his usual professional job, with the help of Nic, getting the whole thing on camera, ready for a documentary series with the Autism Media Channel / Sky TV before Christmas. The Barbers (Polly’s brother, Jamie, sister-in-law Ella, sister Harriet and their families, Toby and lots of his cousins, all looking cool) were there in force. It was a treat to see them, with their friends, members of the public and the autism community arriving to join in the fun and wonder.

I came home with a box of treasures, beautifully presented and now filling my kitchen with the fragrance of lavender: a spectacular table bowl from the Hinchcliffe-Barber studio (John Hinchcliffe is Polly’s late step-father, Wendy Barber is her mother); and very elegant ceramic bag by Lottie Rees, aged 17, long time supporter and great friend of Billy. Spectacular Bowl from the Hinchcliffe-Barber Studio


Then various delights from the children and young adults with autism – Jack Campbell, Jon Edwards and Sam Rodwell – all non-verbal, all struggling with autism and recurrent ill health, all sons of inspiring parents whose contribution to the lives of people with autism go way beyond what they have given to their own sons. I chose some wicker decorations woven by Jack; a shiny red and silver key-ring made by Sam, a wooden golden-heart Jonathan Edwards painted this heart with the help of his mum, Alli

made by Jon and Wallis got a limited edition Autism Trust hoodie, designed by Bella and Rathan, who has autism.  Wallis and Polly at Polly's PlaceI had to stop at that point, just for now, but I’ll be back to restock the treasure box soon, and Amazon will be missing the Christmas order this year for sure.

That the store goes online on the day after the family flies out of the UK is a clinching piece of Tommey cool.

On the way home, Wallis volunteered, totally unprompted that “…getting Asperger’s was the best thing that could have happened to me. I get to go to Polly’s Place, I get a cool Autism Trust hoodie and people understand me better”. Praise indeed. And in the end it’s what Polly’s Place is all about. The message that the team aims to deliver is that, given a chance, people with autism can make real, high-quality contributions to their 21st century world. A visit to Polly’s Place delivers the message with the sheer brute force, elegance and beauty that has become the unique Polly Tommey stamp. So, as the family set out on their next adventure, with Polly’s late father Richard Barber looking over them – they can do so in the full knowledge that as far as the UK is concerned, they have delivered. Big time.