Creative Care founder Tom Graham talks about how it all began.
"How did it begin? Well, my background is aerospace engineering, and when I left aerospace, I went to a company called Karrimor that used to make rucksacks and I learnt the sewing trade. So, I've got an interest in engineering and sewing. I then started a company making rucksacks for specialist applications like GPS which back in the day would have a whole rucksack full of electronic equipment. One of our sewers, who was making these rucksacks, used to come to work in the mornings and she looked absolutely dreadful, she had bags under her eyes.
So we looked at her and thought 'mad party life' and I asked her if she was okay and she said "well, I haven't slept for eight years. I've got a severely autistic child and he doesn't sleep at nights, so one of us always has to stay up with him. This is what we have to do, one night on, one night off". So we thought maybe there was something we could do to help and she said "you won't understand unless you actually come around to our house and have a look".
So, we went to her house, and it was a complete eye opener. Now, the only previous knowledge I had of autism was from Hollywood's version where there's like the high functioning autistic people. We didn't really understand that there is a whole spectrum of autism. And when we got round to her house, her son's room was terrifying to me as an outsider. There was no carpet because he'd pull the carpets up and eat them. He's head butted the walls and made holes in the plasterboard. You know, he'd taken the the radiator off the wall and there's no radiator. He's had the light fitting down so there's no lights and he's smashed the glass in the window.
They had to screw some planks across the window and the only thing in the whole room was a mattress and he even picked the mattress apart so they have to keep buying new mattresses every so often as well. So he's in a completely bare room. No furniture. No carpets, no light fittings. No radiators. Big wooden planks cross the window and I just couldn't believe it. I'd never seen anything like it in my life.
So being a bit of an inventor. I thought there's got to be something that we can do for her to help make it liveable for her son. So we got started on the very first safe environment that we ever made. We were making soft play furniture at the time so we had some bouncy castle fabric, which is incredibly durable. You can't break it basically. So, we used the bouncy castle fabric, and a metal frame made out of scaffold and t and we tensioned this cube of PVC. So it was like a three-dimensional boxing ring.
If you notice boxing rings are really clever: you can't touch the metal frame. There are only ropes, you just touch the soft ropes. It works really well because it means that we don't have to use padding or anything like that. We can just have this cube tension and a zip door and we'll see how we go. So we made this space and lo and behold! I think it was just before Christmas and she said that it's like she got her life back for Christmas. Because instantly she was able to put all the stuff back in the room. She put the carpet in, she put the light fitting back in, and the radiator back on the wall. And it looks like a normal bedroom. But the really weird thing is that her son actually seemed to like it as well and his sleeping patterns started to improve.
He couldn't harm himself and he couldn't harm others more importantly. They didn't have to stay up all night with him. So although he was noisy, because they've been putting up with him for eight years, it was still a fantastic improvement in their lives.
And that was the start of it. We never thought that there would be more than one person struggling with an autistic child. But slowly over the years with the numbers of safe spaces that we've done we realised that very sadly, there is an awful lot of kids out there. Everyone thinks that there is nobody out there like our Johnny, but there is.
We're here to try and make products that can make life better for these children and their families."