A NEW specialist school for children with autism is ready to open its doors in Workington.

Term time at the Cumbria Academy for Autism in Lillyhall will begin next week for 32 children.

The school, which will take pupils from primary school through their GCSEs, is founded by one of the governors, Lynne Thornton.

She saw a gap in the provision for pupils with autism and started working to open the school.

“This facility was badly needed.

“We’ve spent such a long time seeing a dream become a reality,” said Mrs Thornton.

“We’re literally days away from these children starting.”

Shani Tomlinson, activities organiser for I CAAN West Cumbria, the Independent Community Autism Activity Network, said: “Lynne is just absolutely incredible.

“What she has done is amazing. She is a superhero. She’s worked solidly for this, hour after hour for five years.

“She’s not benefitting herself – she’s done it for all our kids that can’t cope with the current systems.

“I don’t know anyone else who would work for 40-plus hours a week for no reward.

“How many people can say they’ve built a school?”

The specialist facility is designed for students that have academic potential but need a different environment to mainstream schools. Facilities include full-spec technology and science labs, libraries, art classes and a planned sensory room.

The school will soon have an immersion room which gives the appearance of virtual reality for life lessons such as road safety and for older students there is a flat within the site including all appliances found in the home.

Headteacher Richard Aindow said he was motivated to provide a place for people with autism to thrive within education and after moving into the adult world.

He said: “We will be doing GCSEs and the aspirations will be high.”

Deputy headteacher Sarah Kirkbride expressed her excitement to be involved in the academy.

She said that despite members of the team not knowing each other before the project began, they had now become an inspirational team.

Staff said parents were impressed and emotional when touring the classrooms ahead of the pupils starting the term. Mrs Kirkbride said: “You see them smiling as they’re walking through the door.”

The school day is different to that of a mainstream school to benefit pupils with autism, separate lunchtimes for groups and tailored acoustics make for a more relaxed and quiet environment.