Extraordinary friends set up house in ordinary Sheffield street

Autism sufferers, from left, Duncan Palmer, Nathan Fleming, James Marrison and Danny Smallwood have moved in together.

Autism sufferers, from left, Duncan Palmer, Nathan Fleming, James Marrison and Danny Smallwood have moved in together.

In an ordinary house on an ordinary street in Crookes, a group of extraordinary young lads have shacked up together as housemates.

The young men cook group meals, have a cleaning rota, and reluctantly drag themselves out of bed in the mornings when their alarms go off.

They spend their free time watching Sky Sports, having a kickabout in the park or even doing a spot of DJ-ing.

In fact, there isn’t much at all about their lifestyle which gives away the fact that these sports-mad lads need more support than most as they go about their day-to-day lives.

The housemates – Nathan Fleming, James Marrison, Duncan Palmer and Danny Smallwood – are aged between 20 and 24 and all have autism and learning disabilities.

But their shared house, which is the first of its kind in Sheffield, enables them to have the independence which any other men their age crave at this point in their lives.

“I like living in Sheffield and with my friends,” said James, aged 20, who moved from a residential school in Grimsby to be back in his home city.

“I choose what I want to do and I have my own space.”

All of the young men had either spent time away from Sheffield at a residential college, or had been living at home and dreaming of a place of their own.

The lads and their families worked with Dimensions, a national, not-for-profit support provider for people with learning disabilities and autism, to organise their exciting move.

The team liaised closely with the landlord and secured the Crookes house they all chose together. They moved in at the end of January and have now successfully settled into their new pad with help from their team of support workers.

Nathan said: “I really like living here.

“I do a lot of the cooking and make things like lasagne, chicken curry and fajitas.

“I really like my housemates and I help Duncan to communicate because he uses sign language and I know makaton.”

The football-mad 20-year-old added: “It’s great being in Sheffield because I’m a Sheffield United fan so I go to games. I even went down to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final against Hull City.”

There are Dimensions support workers in the house 24/7 to keep an eye on the lads, and they attend day services to gain life skills.

Duncan, 23, has a job at WorkLtd, Ringinglow Road, doing gardening and woodwork, while Nathan is hoping to sign onto a catering or brickwork college course with a view to getting a job in the future.

Duncan’s mum Sue Palmer, 58, of Stocksbridge, said: “If he was at home with me, he would rely on my to do certain things but he is becoming much more independent, washing pots and joining in with things.

“Dimensions have kept us in close contact with everything and it’s going really well for him. He has got his independence and he has become his own man.”

Ralph Marrison, James’ dad, added: “James is very much a people person and he has settled in really well.

“It’s lovely to have James close-by but the most important thing for us is that James is happy, which he is. The lads all get on really well.

“The staff are really good and have introduced James to activities he really enjoys, like a youth club. He is going to DJ nights and really is in his element.”

n Money is currently being raised for further assistive technology to enhance the lives of Nathan, James, Duncan and Danny in their new home. For more information on how to fundraise, visit www.dimensions-uk.org/fundraise.


A team of five, hand-picked support workers help out the lads with their day-to-day living.

Dimensions matched all of them up with the housemates through a ‘job interview’ at a leisure centre.

The workers had a sports session with the young men – and their families watched to see who interacted and supported their sons well.

Gail Greenwood, a support advisor for Dimensions, said: “We used sport as one of the vehicles in our process of staff recruitment.

“This brought the lads and potential members of staff together and it was noticeable how quickly they all became comfortable and at ease with each other.

“This process ensured that the staff team were well-matched the young people and that they each had control over who was employed to support them.”

Richard Schofield, one of the support workers who spends time with the lads, said: “With five guys living together, you would always expect there to be some rocky patches but there haven’t been too many.

“It’s about the compatability between the guys themselves and between them and the support workers, and it’s about the set-up being right.

“It’s well managed and it’s going great.”

Joe Greaves, a locality manager, added: “I feel inspired that this has happened. It’s been an incredible experience to see how this group have developed and become so much more independent.”

Dimensions has been working in Sheffield for more than 20 years and provides innovative and personalised support for people with learning disabilities and autism.

The organisation’s staff teams support about 80 people in the city to live their lives in the way they choose.


Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a condition which impacts upon a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

The main features of ASD usually begin to develop in childhood, although the impact of these may not become apparent until there is a significant change in a person’s life, such as a change of school.

Symptoms are usually grouped into two main categories, which are problems with social interaction and communication; and restricted and repetitive patterns of thought, interests and physical behaviours.

Communication problems include issues understanding and being aware of other people’s emotions and feelings. They can also include delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.

Physical behaviours tend to include making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting, and becoming upset if set routines are disrupted.

In the UK, it is estimated that one per cent of the population has ASD.

The exact cause of ASD is unknown but it is thought that several complex genetic and environmental factors are involved. There is no ‘cure’ but a wide range of treatments, including education and behaviour support, can help people living with the condition.




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