More than 50 students and staff, past and present, came together on 8th February to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the RUGROOM, City College's specialist facility for students with autism.
The RUGROOM at City College Norwich has formed a key part of the support provided to over 650 students with autism during the last 10 years.
In 2007 a small group of students who are on the autistic spectrum, who called themselves the Really Useful Group, were asked by the college to help design a social and study space for students with autism.
Features of the RUGROOM – which was officially opened on 8th February 2008 – include comfortable pods providing somewhere students can escape into their own space if they need some downtime. The RUGROOM also has social and study spaces, a newly-extended quiet room, as well as computing facilities and a kitchen area.
In addition to providing an autism-friendly space, a quiet haven in the midst of a large, bustling further education college, the RUGROOM provides opportunities for students with autism to come together as a community. A constant feature of the RUGROOM over the years has been its popular social events for students.
Guests included two founding members of the Really Useful Group, Ian Harding and Robyn Steward (who joined the celebration via a live Skype link).
Robyn recalls that the Really Useful Group provided an opportunity to make a difference for the college’s students with autism:
“The Really Useful Group used to meet in one of the engineering classrooms. There were two things that we agreed would really help our experience in college: a safe space for us to use and training on autism for staff. We realised that working together as a group, with staff, was really powerful, that together we could help solve the issues.
“Three of us got involved in training for staff. I remember getting paid £17.50 and a bottle of coke for the first training session! It was great. I really valued being listened to by the staff. I am glad that RUGROOM students continue to be involved in autism awareness training, as it’s so important for neurotypical people to hear the real experiences of young people with autism.”
“The RUGROOM was like a safe haven, somewhere you could go and know that you were not alone. There was lots of support, it was really good, and I’m glad it’s still there now and helping lots of other people with autism."
The RUGROOM is used by a wide diversity of students who are on the autistic spectrum. Some are on the college's Phoenix Purple course, which develops communication, social skills, confidence, employability and study skills, alongside qualifications such as GCSEs and Functional Skills, should learners need or want to take them. Others are on mainstream college courses, receiving in-class and off-course support, with the option to drop in and access support from the RUGROOM as needed.