Building Bridges: How NDFT aims to transform Neurodivergent lives in Thanet

NDFT director Holly Sutcliffe

This is the second of three columns from Neurodivergent Friends in Thanet (NDFT) featuring interviews with the group’s directors, each highlighting their contributions to fostering Neurodivergence inclusivity in the local community.

 Continuing our series, we delve deeper into the hearts behind Neurodivergent Friends in Thanet (NDFT), turning the spotlight on Holly Sutcliffe, co-director, whose life and work paint a vivid picture of dedication, resilience and hope.

Holly’s unique perspective adds rich layers to the fabric of NDFT, weaving together personal experience, professional expertise, and a relentless drive to foster inclusion and understanding within the Thanet community.

Join us as we explore Holly’s motivations, dreams, and the profound impact NDFT has had on her life and the lives of those it touches.

Q: Who the heck are you?

A: I am a 42 year old late discovered autistic human, who also has PTSD since adolescence but was only discovered later in life and post-childbirth. My work is varied and complex. My primary role is as a parent and carer to my Neurodivergent child, who is autistic and ADHD, and has epilepsy and chromosomal deletion. I’m a yoga teacher and a somatic therapist. My background is in education, working with young people and children.

Q: Why NDFT? What led you to join in as a Director?

A:  Before NDFT, I have been primarily working on my own, running my business advocating for and working with Neurodivergent people, as well as advocating for my child, organising a lot of things to do with their care and education.

When I saw Lucie’s shout out for support with NDFT, I first thought about it really carefully because it wasn’t necessarily 100% the vision of what I was doing, but I really wanted to be part of the community and to make the world a better place.

Eventually, I thought that what Lucie had set up already was a really good idea and knew first hand there was a real need for it. I felt that I could be of real support and thought I had some good skills to bring into what had been started.

As a Neurodivergent person and as a parent carer of an ND-child, I also wanted to be part of a collective and community because of the isolation and loneliness I had experienced in the last seven years. For me this was the longest period in my life experiencing this, and I really recognised that for some people that is even more long standing and chronic.

I felt that I could bring a lot of value to growing NDFT, bringing with me my education and somatic healing background, and yoga, community building and advocacy experience and expertise that I had under my belt.

I felt like it would be a really good place to fit with me and that could be a real benefit.

Q: Where do you see NDFT in 3 years-time? What kind of impact do you want the CIC to have on the local community?

A: My absolute dream is that by then we will have a space and be offering loads of different ways of support.

In my “dream big” vision, by then, we’d have peer support up and running, we’d have community engagement, running training and really supporting the resurgent people and the local community to collaborate and interact, co-exist and co-create in further interconnected and beneficial ways.

I really see us growing and evolving in sustainable and affirming ways that will impact the lives of the people that are working within and outside the organisation.

I’d love for us to be able to support multiple Neurodivergent humans financially through sustainable and ND-affirming employment, whilst they help build and grow NDFT beyond this three year vision, and for the decades to come.

I see the potential in NDFT to build a legacy and create real impactful change for the area and our community, as we’ve already started.

I want to see NDFT grow and develop, responding to the needs of our community as they arrive and cannot wait to see it all unfold before us.

Q: Challenges and Strength: What do you think is our biggest challenge and strength, as an organisation?

A: Our biggest challenge coincides with our greatest strength: being led by Neurodivergent individuals. This unique aspect influences how we process information, make decisions, collaborate, and empathise with others’ ideas and methods.

These processes can be incredibly challenging for us, yet they also represent our core strength. Those of us currently involved have experienced significant healing and co-creation, striving to interact in the world authentically without feeling compelled to mask our true selves.

We aim to accept and accommodate others, a goal that becomes evident during our events, such as the Looping the Loop Forum and our social meetups. These gatherings highlight the benefits and immediate comfort of being in an entirely Neurodivergent space, despite the inherent struggles some may face.

Our community is always ready to offer emotional and mental support as needed. There is a profound sense of being seen and heard within our spaces, thanks to our Neurodivergent-led approach, exclusively for Neurodivergent individuals.

One challenge I’d like us to address is the broad spectrum of Neurodivergence, which extends beyond autism and ADHD to include a diverse range of individuals. Embracing and meeting the varied needs within our community is both a challenge and a strength.

Achieving this harmoniously can result, I think, in truly beautiful outcomes.

Q: What message would you like to send to individuals who are Neurodivergent or questioning, and may be seeking support or connection?

A: I would like to let anyone who is unsure or curious about their own identity, how their brain works, how they exist in the world, and how they want to exist in the world, and may be seeking support or connection, know that there is room for you.

There is space for you, and we would really welcome you should you wish to come along to one of our meetups or creative programmes.

If you are nervous, scared, or have doubts, know that no question is too silly or too small. We want you to feel safe enough to come, and we hope to see you soon.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to support the Neurodivergent community but doesn’t know where to start?

A: To someone who considers themselves or wishes to be an ally to a Neurodivergent person, whether that’s supporting an individual they know or in a broader sense as a business owner, community member, or someone who works with people, I would emphasise the importance of listening.

It’s crucial to listen, notice, and observe. A significant challenge for me has been my needs not being met, and when I have expressed these needs, they’ve often been perceived as strange or invalid, leading to them being ignored.

This isn’t always the case, but it happens frequently enough to be notable. So, I urge you to listen.

There are incredible content creators on platforms like Instagram who educate on what it’s like to live with a Neurodivergent experience.

It’s important not to assume you’ll fully understand Neurodivergent individuals or that understanding is required to support Neurodivergent and non-Neurodivergent people alike. Recognise that their needs are real and valid.

Navigating a world not designed for Neurodivergent individuals can be incredibly challenging, whether the obstacles are sensory, organisational, structural, or related to mental health issues like anxiety and social stress.

It’s complicated, and while we don’t expect perfection or complete understanding, we ask for your willingness to listen, be curious, and remain open to exploring ways to support us.

This support can significantly enhance our access to the world, making it feel more inclusive and accepting.

Q: What is a significant lesson you have learned through your work with NDFT?

A: I have learned what it’s like to have my needs seen and validated regularly, on a daily and weekly basis, and the significant impact this has on my mental health and well-being.

It’s been a challenging journey: we’ve put in a lot of work, faced numerous challenges, made difficult decisions, and navigated communication issues.

However, what has stood out to me is that we are operating in a space where it’s okay to be seen, to make mistakes, and to acknowledge when our brain is struggling with understanding or processing something and just needs a bit of support and validation.

Existing and working in an environment that recognises and reciprocates these needs is truly wonderful. It gives me a lot of strength to keep going, to continue growing personally and alongside my friends.

This environment is incredibly motivating to me because I believe that everyone, whether Neurodivergent or not, would greatly benefit from working in a place where their needs are seen, validated, and understood.

Q: How do you hope NDFT will impact the lives of Neurodivergent individuals?

A: I really hope we can empower the local Neurodivergent community in ways that we can’t even imagine yet, so that the scope of our work, our impact, and the lives that will be affected goes beyond my current imagination.

I am eager to see what unfolds and aim to impact as many Neurodivergent people in a meaningful way.

I know this effort isn’t just going to come from me; it will also come from not only my fellow Co-Directors and those who have been working and attending our meetings but from people we haven’t even met or seen yet.

That’s why this is so exciting.

“A Year of Neurodivergent Connection” is ahead…

 After a couple of years primarily working on a volunteering basis and DIY solutions, the NDFT team wants to solidify their foundations. They are excited to run their first crowdfunding campaign on Spacehive [https://www.spacehive.com/ndft-connection-year] where they aim to raise up to £26,000.

This campaign aims to fund a whole year of activities, including NDFT’s famous monthly social meetup, a new monthly coffee morning, and other exciting events, to continue growing sustainable support for the growing Neurodivergent community of Thanet.

With more organisations wanting to support and collaborate with NDFT, and exponentially increasing demand for more NDFT events by its beneficiaries, no contribution to their campaign is too small!

Pledge today to help support this Neurodivergent, community-led organisation in achieving greater impact, leading to a more inclusive Thanet where everyone can feel safe to be themselves and included in their local community.

Find out more about NDFT’s Spacehive Crowdfunding Campaign:  https://www.spacehive.com/ndft-connection-year

About Neurodivergent Friends in Thanet: https://linktr.ee/neurodivergentfriendsthanet

8 Comments

  1. With the ever-increasing emergence of folks who are in some way ”special”, I begin to wonder if there will be any ”normal” people left . . .

    • Just more of the modern victim mentality & we are special & deserve special treatment/pandering to our delusions culture-we all have issues, the rest of us just get on with it & accept the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around us & our irrational/unrealistic wants & demands that we would never dream of making.

      Emotions & personality disorders are perfectly normal, they are not PTSD or mental illness & it isn’t an excuse to make ridiculous demands of other people & then play the victim/bullying card when these are correctly rebuffed. Nor is it a licence to behave appallingly & then blame it some imaginary condition you have invented to suit your own purposes/been deluded into believing.

    • We’re all “special”. And I would say that none of us is “normal”, whatever that means.
      You’d have to be rather bloody minded not to acknowledge that people suffer from a variety of physical conditions, which can be more or less debilitating, requiring more or less support. From diabetes on the one hand (treatable with diet controls or self medication) to MS (requiring a large level of support) and everything in between.
      So it is with other human conditions. None of us is “normal”. We all exhibit traits of one sort or another. But, just as with physical conditions, most of us cope just fine, whereas others need a greater or less level of support.
      If you are fairly “normal”, and cope OK, then good for you.
      But don’t be so negative about those who, for whatever reason, struggle.

  2. “Who the heck are you?” LOL!

    Otherwise, good article on an important issue.

    (as for the comment above, I’m glad I’m not “normal. How boring that would be!)

    • Even you with your schizophrenia (or should that now be bi-polar ?) and your gender identity issues are far closer to ”normal” than many of those promoting their own views, problems, difficulties, ideals, etc.

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