Grant to boost students’ work helping people with autism

Jade Hedges-Stearn, Sense Aware founder; Samantha Turner, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy; Rachel Rule, Sense Aware founder; and Alannah Burkholder, Sense Aware volunteer


A student-led project to help young people with autism and additional needs has won nearly £5,000 from a national community fund. 

Sense Aware, set up by University of Plymouth students Rachel Rule and Jade Hedges-Stearn, received the £4,973 from the Aviva Community Fund to help their ‘local project make a big difference’.

Working alongside charity Routeways in their spare time, the Occupational Therapy students will use the money to expand the charity’s Devonport Park Activity Centre and help support more children with autism, learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions, and their families. 

The students have already held bake sales to raise money for sensory equipment for the premises, and will use the space to house the new equipment. 

And their award from the ‘Skills for Life’ category of the Aviva Community Fund also comes six months after the building’s outside space was vandalised, so they hope to make the area as safe as possible. 

Jade said: 

“We attended a conference run by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists and were really inspired by a workshop that showed the impact of sensory equipment on the wellbeing of those with additional needs – including children with autism. Knowing that Routeways was arts and crafts inclusive, we started to work with them and from there, our own Sense Aware was born.

“Having fundraised for the sensory equipment, the award from Aviva will now help us build a room to fully utilise it, which will be just amazing. We’re so grateful to everyone who voted and are looking forward to getting the building underway.”

Samantha Turner, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Plymouth, said: 

“Here at Plymouth, we encourage students to attend professional events and put research into practice, and the way that they’ve taken and run with this idea is just remarkable. We’re delighted to be able to support Sense Aware as they help to enhance the lives of the young people they meet.”

Mark Collings from Routeways said: 

“We can’t thank Jade and Rachel enough, not just for the fund raising, but most importantly for what Sense Aware brings to the charity. With their support we are able to help more families and have greater impact on the lives we touch. We are truly grateful to everyone that voted and grateful to these two inspirational women.”

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“Occupational therapy is a very diverse profession which makes it really exciting. So that would enable you to apply for jobs in a whole range of sectors.”