Life Skills Training for People with Autism at Crowsmill

Skills Training for Disaffected Youths

Founders of Crowsmill Craft Centre

Mark Chiswell and Dickon Pitt

Crowsmill Craft Centre is a Community Interest Company based in Shropshire. Dickon Pitt and Mark Chiswell co-founded the centre in 2013 after gaining a wealth of experience working in the charity sector.

They discussed their ideas with Shropshire Council and then spent eight months converting a disused barn into the centre where the projects, courses and activities take place. Dickon tells us that their aim is to give people the chance to learn new skills, meet new people and help their students to gain work experience or go onto further education.

“The projects we run are community related. We’ve had students from local families who we’ve trained in skills that they have furthered either at college or in apprenticeships. We’ve also provided both employment and volunteering opportunities for local people, and as we grow, we will continue to provide opportunities.”

Celebrating Equality and Diversity

The centre is open to everyone, without prejudice or discrimination and they work with people from a range of backgrounds. Some have disabilities or mental health issues, while others have been excluded from school.

“Having started with six pupils who were excluded from mainstream education, we then took on a number of people with disabilities. We currently have three main groups consisting of disaffected youth and schools, a post 16 course and our Creative Craft Crew consisting of people with disabilities and mental health issues.

“Everyone is treated as an equal, and no one is given preferential treatment regardless of gender, race, sexuality or religion, and we actively encourage all of our groups to mix with each other to remove the stigmas attached.”

Courses and Workshops Tailored to the Individual

Crowsmill run a range of courses to suit the needs of all their students and there’s also a range of workshops and activities available.

“The courses we offer are equivalent to GCSE’s, and students can obtain qualifications as high as an A grade. As a general rule, courses take one year to complete, and we can progress from a level one to a level two if time permits.

students at Crowsmill

The students of Crowsmill Craft Centre


“We offer many different crafts and activities including, but not limited to; traditional and modern woodwork, plastering, bricklaying, welding, metalwork, horticulture, landscaping, blacksmithing and archery. We also teach softer skills such as pottery and arts and crafts.

“Our students gain a variety of skills as they are actively encouraged to try as many activities as they can. This helps them find potentially new skills they didn’t know they had.”

Helping Students with Autism Develop Social and Life Skills

The centre has a number of autistic pupils and Crowsmill offer courses and workshops tailored to their individual needs.

“Our students with autism are treated the same as all our others. Some of our autistic attendees will be with us for a long time and are more suited to carrying out repetitive activities, which provide them with a sense of worth. Others are within the school system and have very different learning requirements, which are sometimes specified through their schools.

“We have a small staff to student ratio, so we can tailor our courses to enhance their experience. Each student is treated as unique, and we provide Individual Learner Plans. This is something we have been complimented on by students, teachers and parents alike. The peaceful, relaxed learning environment takes away a lot of the issues that those with autism would normally have when in a busy school or college session.”

As part of the learning experience, Crowsmill tries to help students develop their social skills, through daily activities.

“We try and embed social and life skills by applying them in everyday activities. This helps us to bolster social awareness and ways of engaging with others without necessarily doing it in a set session. This works well as it teaches those with autism how to interact with others with autism, young people and adults in general.

“Everyone can learn at their own pace without being singled out because they struggle with numeracy or literacy or are simply shy and don’t know how to mix with others.”

Grounds Maintenance Team Project

Dickon planting trees in the orchard

Tree planting in the Crowsmill orchard


Dickon and Mark are starting up a new project called the Grounds Maintenance Team to get their students involved in outdoor activities. The aim of the project is to help build confidence and encourage interaction with the local community.

“The project will involve a team of us going out and providing services for people locally. This may involve mowing someone’s lawn or doing a landscaping project.

“We approached the community arm of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, Wolves community trust, who have agreed to help fund this project. This enabled us to buy a tipper truck, mowers and other tools.”

Crowsmill is hoping to build a relationship with the local community as well as developing their student’s skills.

“We hope to form a strong tie with the local community by providing a good value service whilst helping many different people to conquer social inclusion, depression and unemployment. It will provide a long-term provision for those who need it most, whilst having the ultimate goal of being able to financially reward those who work as part of the Grounds Maintenance Team.”

The new project is expected to be very popular with all of the students at Crowsmill, and the places will be in high demand.

“We intend to have people with disabilities on the team, including those with autism who love the experience of working outdoors along with the routine and the sense of self-worth that is created. It will be a good opportunity for those experiencing mental health issues to gently re-engage with society, and build up their self-confidence and progress towards re-employment.”

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