Eight weeks ago I was looking at an empty shell of a building with a budget of only £1500 ($2,400 in the U.S.) to create a shop. My vision is to help people and families with autism earn money and showcase their skills, something I was determined to set up before our move to America. We were on a tight deadline but my small—yet brilliant—team planned, researched and scoured the country for families willing to make products for our shop to get the project off the ground.
While we were working flat out on the shop, Polly’s Place (named by a friend and fellow autism advocate), the entire Tommey family was also packing the house up and shipping out. For two weeks, Billy and Bella stayed at their schools while Toby and Jon moved in with my sister in Dorset. I stayed with friends and worked every day to make the worryingly tight deadline I had set myself for Polly’s Place.
The first few weeks were stressful. Our builder, Steve, was brought in to paint, put up shelves and give the building a general overhaul. He kept us entertained with his singing (some may remember him from the documentary covering Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar series!). But time seemed always against us as we paced, waiting for the paint to dry and floor to go down before we could get in there and start stocking our shelves.
The weeks passed with me driving all around the country picking up products—I was sure we had plenty. One week before our launch, we finally got into the shop, and mad panic set in as I realized much more was needed to actually make the shop look like a real one. How we got through that week I’ll never know—but we did, and when the day finally came for the opening, I couldn’t have felt more proud. I found myself fighting back tears on the M25 at 8:00 a.m. with Billy in the passenger seat singing along to a favorite song.
Maybe it was sheer exhaustion, maybe it was sadness at leaving my country, maybe it was my sudden wish that my dad could be here to see this—all I know as I watched people come into the shop that day and buy bundles of what they described as “beautiful, talented, and perfect gifts” is that I felt overwhelmed with appreciation for all the talent and potential that people with autism and Asperger’s—along with their families and supporters—have. To top everything, we would be able to send them well earned money as any artist deserves.
Now, as I write this, we are in Austin, Texas staying with friends until we find a suitable house for our family. The Autism Trust USA will now create Polly’s Place here in the USA. What excites me more than anything about this venture is us joining together to give autism a chance. I will be back often to the UK, and The Autism Trust will continue to flourish under the fabulous team of professionals there. I have no doubt we will form an excellent team here too and people with autism will be given hope and support. I will of course keep you updated.
Just one note on Billy: he loves America very much, particularly the people. Yesterday, however, while being taken around by a realtor (“estate agent” to us Brits) for two hours, the very friendly man did not stop talking, so Billy took it upon himself to say, “ Excuse me, Mr. Man, you are, I’m afraid, very boring.” Jon and I were horrified and quickly went into masses of reasons as to what he really meant (all ridiculous as it was what it was). Our realtor friend laughed and laughed and even rang me up that evening to say that when he recounted the story to his wife, she laughed as she hadn’t in ages. Thank goodness for the American sense of humor—I think Billy will be in good hands over here!