In 1988 the Ernest and Margurite Bennett founded Leeds Christian Homes for Adults with Autism (LCHAA), to ensure that their autistic son could access specialist autism support throughout his adult life. This led to the opening of Ashlar House, an 8-bed residential service in Chapel Allerton, Leeds, aimed specifically at meeting the needs of autistic adults.

In the early 1990’s the charity identified that the residents of Ashlar House really needed some form of meaningful activity away from the home. In 1995, Mabgate Resource Centre was opened; an autism specific day service based in a business unit in Mabgate Mills, Leeds. This provision provided a range of vocational activities for up to 15 autistic adults.

During the early 2000’s the Mabgate Resource Centre received a growing number of enquiries from people seeking specialist daytime provision, and it became clear that the service needed to expand in order to meet the needs of autistic people in the city. We started taking new people into the service, and it quickly grew. In 2003, we rented an additional unit in the Mill, to accommodate the influx of new people.

In 2005, LCHAA changed name to Leeds Autism Services. This change was made to reflect that we are happy to support people regardless of their background, culture or religion. We have always recognised that autistic people are a very diverse group of people, and felt that the organisation needed a name that reflected our policy of inclusivity.

By the mid-2000’s it was clear that our unique speciality was working with individuals with complex needs and potential high-risk behaviours. By adopting positive, proactive, non-judgemental and highly individualised approaches to managing behaviour, we were able to vastly increase opportunities for the people we were supporting. A minimum of one-to-one support became a standard part of our packages, although we continued to provide group activities for people who benefitted from them.

Demand on the day service continued to increase, and we soon outgrew the units at Mabgate Mills. In 2006 we started to plan a move to our own premises. The people who used Mabgate Resource Centre needed a space of their own. In 2007 we relocated the service to our own building in Armley, and the people who used the service named it ‘New Mabgate’.

In 2009, we launched our Outreach Service so people could get support in their own home or in the community. The service proved to be very popular, and outreach now accounts for around a third of the support we provide.

We opened our second base, Grape Street, in early 2012, which allowed us to support even more adults with autism in the Leeds area.

To coincide with our 25th Anniversary, we renamed our day and outreach services ‘LAS Vocational and Community Services (VACS)’ in 2013. This was to let people know that the scope of our support went far beyond a traditional ‘day service’ model, and is actually focused on community involvement and personal development through meaningful, vocational activity.

We started to offer training and consultancy to individuals and organisations in 2016 due to increasing enquiries from people wanting to know more about autism. This has been a very successful way to promote positive attitudes towards autistic people, and help make environments more accessible for everyone. In 2018, promoting autism acceptance and understanding became a key aim of the charity. 

We developed our first Autism Policy in 2019. This lays out the charities attitudes, ethos and use of language when working to support autistic people. The policy was based upon the views and opinions of autistic people both within, and outside of, LAS.

In 2020, we changed our look to let people know that we are friendly, accepting and diverse. We want our brand to reflect the fact that we see autistic people as an important, equal and integral part of society, and that we work to promote understanding, acceptance and positive attitudes about autism.

The future…

We’re committed to furthering our reach to ensure more autistic people and their families are able to access the support they need. We will also strive to meet growing demand for training and advice to public bodies, businesses, community groups and the wider public. We are hoping to extend our facilities, provide more volunteering opportunities, and hold more campaigns and events to enjoy and increase autism understanding and acceptance. We will continue to base our knowledge and working practices around autism on the views and preferences of autistic people to ensure we remain a forward thinking charity, with a highly skilled, specialised workforce.