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Ex-BBC journalist becomes public governor of NSFT

​A former BBC journalist who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 57 has become a public governor of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Clare Smith, who is now 61, and her daughter Ally, now 18, were both diagnosed with the Asperger syndrome form of autism on the same day – 25 April, 2013.

Mrs Smith, who lives in Beeston Regis, near Sheringham, has become one of NSFT’s seven public governors representing Norfolk and has taken up a three-year term of office.

“One of my priorities as a new governor is to get out and about in the community to raise awareness of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and to find out what people think we’re doing well and not so well,” she said.

“Many local people don’t seem to know that they own the Trust. If they become public members, they can have a significant say on how it’s run.

“I want to do my bit to help raise the Trust’s profile, like by encouraging people to sign up as public members.

“I also want to help raise awareness about autism, both in the community but also within the Trust itself which is why I’m getting involved in reviewing, developing and delivering the autism training it provides.

The former Newsnight reporter in April became Co-Chair of the newly-created Norfolk All Age Autism Partnership Board, which represents the interests of people with autism, and late last year she set up the Norfolk Autism/Asperger’s Network.

She and her family moved from Teesside to Norfolk after she and her daughter were diagnosed because she thought it would provide a calmer and more nurturing atmosphere.

Oxford graduate Mrs Smith and her husband, Ralph, also have a 22-year-old daughter called Jennifer. Ally is due to start a degree at the University of York this autumn.

Since July 2016 Mrs Smith has been a “Green Light Champion” for NSFT. They are people with a particular interest or expertise in autism and / or learning disabilities who promote best practice around the care and treatment of people on the autism spectrum in mental health services.

During her BBC career, Mrs Smith spent 12 years as Health and Family Correspondent for BBC North West and she also worked 18 months as a television reporter for Channel 33 in Dubai, UAE.

She has also been a journalism lecturer in Bournemouth, Salford and Teesside. For the past 2½ years, she has volunteered at the RSPCA shop in Sheringham.

NSFT runs the Suffolk Autism Diagnostic Service. Based in Stowmarket, it has clinics in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Stowmarket. It accepts referrals from the age of 11 upwards and also provides short-term post-diagnostic support and signposts people who have been diagnosed with autism and their families to organisations that can offer longer term support.

NSFT has trained almost 200 Green Light Champions who include staff working in all areas of the Trust, service users and champions in other organisations such as Suffolk Community Healthcare and Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust.

They take their name from the Green Light Toolkit published by the National Development Team for Inclusion to improve the way that mental health services in England respond to people who also have learning disabilities or autism.

Caption: Clare Smith with her daughter, Ally

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