The Engine Shed

06 November 2019

Research from the National Autistic Society shows that people with autism are four times more likely to feel isolated than members of the general public. For autistic adults, their sense of community with peers is particularly fractured as they have far fewer social opportunities than they had when attending school.

“The idea for The Engine Shed came from my autistic son. At three years old, around 60% of his limited vocabulary was related to trains - which were his overwhelming interest and passion. Visits to model railway exhibitions quickly became an uncomfortable experience, however, as staff would be concerned about my son getting too close to expensive equipment, creating a stressful atmosphere. We noticed that there were many autistic children at train events, and the idea for The Engine Shed took shape.

The Engine Shed was first established for autistic children who have an interest in trains, to share their hobby in a non-judgmental, safe space. Many of our original members are now over 18. They told us that there are few welcoming and stimulating places where they can spend time with their peers, which is something everyone needs to lead a healthy and happy life. This project responds to that, extending our work to include sessions for autistic adults and young people.

"I went to the children’s Engine Shed for years and thought it was great when the adult sessions began. This group is less busy than the children’s one, with more people who are my age. I am glad that I can still come to the club and talk about trains with people who like the same things.”

Russell Cooper, project member

Members of The Engine Shed adult group

Members have their own interests relating to trains so they engage with the project at different levels. They also enjoy coming up with ideas for activities.

We also organise sessions for siblings of autistic children, some of whom are young carers. They too can often feel isolated, which in turn, can negatively impact upon their physical and mental health. It’s important that siblings have a peer group to share their experiences, as well as time out to pursue their interests. The activities are chosen by group members.

We also hold information seminars for parents and carers. Mik Scarlet, an actor and disability activist spoke at a recent event; he talked to the group about his experiences of growing up with a disability.

The project has created meaningful connections and friendships and a genuine sense of community. For members who are unemployed, it provides something for them to do in the day that is both enjoyable and built around their needs. We hope that our project has planted a seed which will grow into more provision for autistic adults in the area.”

Sarah Snow, Project Manager

The Engine Shed were awarded £17,930 for their ‘Autism and Recreational Support’ project, which is funded through the Trust’s Active Communities programme with money raised through Health Lottery London West.


This case study was produced as part of People's Health Trust's 2019 Annual Review. To read it in full, click here.

You have already completed an application for funding, are you sure you would like to submit another application? You should only submit another application if it is for a different project. If you want to amend an application that has already been submitted, please call us on 020 7749 9100.

Begin a new application