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Mayor praises 'fantastic' Finlay Cooper Centre work

Andy Preston, Heather Whyman, and Mieka Smiles

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston has praised as “fantastic” the work of a Teesside charity creating one of the North East’s largest centres for children and young adults living with autism.

Building work has been under way for almost two years on the conversion of a former health centre on Elizabeth Terrace in North Ormesby. 

The charity MAIN aims to transform the building, now named the Finlay Cooper Centre, into a safe and inspiring space for children and young adults with autism, a neurological development disability.

The centre was purchased by MAIN thanks to a generous donation by the Finlay Cooper Trust. It will stand as a lasting legacy to Finlay Cooper, the son of Boro footballer Colin Cooper and his wife Julie who died in a choking tragedy in 2002, shortly before his second birthday.  

Extensive modifications are progressing well, but the work is extremely costly and MAIN would still welcome practical help in some areas of the redevelopment and financial support from Tees Valley business.

MAIN wanted the Mayor and his deputy, Cllr Mieka Smiles, to take a look at progress on their “Big Build” so far. The first stage of the project is set to be completed soon, welcoming scores of children and young adults on the autistic spectrum.

Mayor Preston said: “It’s a fantastic facility that will not only help people with autism live an independent life while having fun and making friends, it will also represent an important part of the regeneration of the North Ormesby area.”

Councillor Smiles, who is also Executive Member for Children’s Services, said: “There is so much need in this area for the services that MAIN provides. This will represent a major boost for children’s services in the Tees Valley.” 

Heather Whyman, the centre manager at MAIN, said: “A limited number of children are already using the facility, but we hope to have all the redevelopment work on the first stage complete and be fully up and running very soon. 

“It gives us double the space that we had at our previous headquarters in Riverside Park and we could eventually see up to 700 people a week using the Finlay Cooper Centre, making it one of the largest facilities for children and young people with autism in the region.”

The work taking place includes the development of specially adapted rooms for different ability groups allowing MAIN to offer more tailored support. A sensory garden and outdoor play area will help many users experience the outdoors as they’ve never done before and to grow their own produce on the land. Specialist equipment will enable users to develop and learn the life skills they need to live independently. 

The centre will also have adapted changing areas suitable for all ages, giving users a hygienic and comfortable place to get changed in dignity and greatly improved security features.