Annie Sands - Service Manager

I have been a Welfare Rights Adviser for over 30 years, mainly employed in the voluntary sector. I have been working for Autism Anglia for 11 years in different roles within the organisation. I am now the manager of our new North East Essex Advocacy Service, and incredibly proud of the team. I am thrilled that our Welfare Rights department is recognised as one of the best nationally. We have influenced changes in social security legislation and carry a 100% success rate at tribunal. I helped write the Autism Insight Report for Personal Independence Payment assessors, and I am the author of Autism Anglia’s Autism Passport. The Passport is widely used in courts, prisons, DWP and medical settings. I have three grown-up children with autism, all with varying needs, and I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2015. I try to focus on the benefits of being an Aspie rather than the negatives, which is not always easy. When I’m not working, I like to read, walk, attend church and crochet. 

Our Lead Advocates

Kim Mayhead - Lead Advocate Education & Diagnosis

I am the Lead Advocate for Education and Diagnosis. I started my journey with Autism 19 years ago. I am a mum to three autistic children, and they are all affected by co-morbid disorders too. I started a support group on Facebook for parents with children with SEND eight years ago and what started as a small community is now over 5400 members strong. I have endeavoured to create a collective voice and a network of peer-to-peer support, advice, and guidance for parents to gain knowledge, empowerment, support, and friendship. I am IPSEA Level 3 Advanced Legal Trained and am able to represent parents at tribunal level. I am so lucky to have this opportunity to bring the support I have provided to parents in NE Essex to Autism Anglia’s advocacy service where we aim to further empower parents through the maze of statutory services and to support the whole family to have better life chances and outcomes.

Helen Leckie - Lead Advocate Welfare Rights & Housing

Hi, I’m Helen and have worked for Autism Anglia for 14 years. I was part of the original advice team, and then moved into Welfare Rights, and I am now the Lead Advocate for Welfare Rights and Housing. I have a son who is neurodivergent, and understand the difficulties many parents face on a daily basis. I am thrilled we have received funding, in order to provide an Advocacy Service with knowledgeable and experienced colleagues. I enjoy problem solving difficult cases and supporting the rights of children, young people and their families. I attend various committees where we strive to change laws and legislation for the benefit of the autistic community. I am also a qualified florist, and in my spare time, I like to help my mum and dad in their floristry business.

Melanie Belcher - Lead Advocate Welfare Rights & Housing

My name is Mel and I am a Lead Welfare Rights and Housing Advocate within Autism Anglia. Although I have only been in my role a short time, I have volunteered for Autism Anglia since 2019. I have a passion for helping families and individuals access services and provisions that they are entitled to and educating and empowering them along the way. I have three children, two of who have a diagnosis of ASD, amongst other conditions so I know first-hand the struggles that families face. I also have a diagnosis of ASD, so have a unique perspective from my own experiences that adds to my passion for supporting others. I am looking forward to making positive changes within the lives of people who access our services, and challenging local policies for effective changes to the whole of the community we support.

Claire Giles - Lead Advocate Health & Social Care

I have recently started with Autism Anglia, and am the Lead Health and Social Care Advocate. Whilst I am new to the company, I have had many years’ experience within health care. I was a qualified learning disabilities nurse for 12 years within the NHS, and I now have two children of my own who have a diagnosis of ASD, amongst other comorbid conditions. Having had to access social care and health for my own children’s provision and diagnosis, I’m aware how difficult it can be to navigate at times. I am passionate about ensuring other families are supported, empowered and given a voice to access these provisions. I am so excited to make a difference, and work within such a passionate and knowledgeable team.

Maddie Starkings - Information Officer

My name is Maddie, and I am the Information Officer for our Advocacy Service. I first joined Autism Anglia in August 2019 as an apprentice for the former Autism Advice Service and then the Fundraising Team. Since then, I have worked as the Receptionist and Administrator at our Head Office, now alongside my new role within the Advocacy Service. Having worked for the charity in various roles, I have gained much experience in dealing with a range of enquiries and built a wide knowledge of Autism services. I also have a Level 3 Diploma in both Health & Social Care and Business Administration. I enjoy that my job is playing a part in helping other people’s lives!

Our Volunteers


Angela Wade - Volunteer Advocate

Having worked as an LSA for many years, then having my two younger children with autism I found how hard things are for SEN parents. After looking to join somewhere to be able to make more of a difference to families like mine. I joined Autism Anglia as Education and Welfare support advocate and I'm loving it.


Emer Gray - Volunteer Advocate

I'm Emer and volunteering in the Welfare Rights area. I really want to be able to help people become more knowledgeable about their rights when living with Autism so they can feel less isolated. I feel it's so important to feel like we all have a place of belonging regardless of what life throws at us. Still feel like I know so little myself even though I've been a parent of a child with Autism for nearly 12 years (diagnosed age 7). I hope over time I can keep learning and share what I know with others to make lives easier for all.


Gaynor Mason - Volunteer Advocate

I previously studied for a BTec in nursery nursing and volunteered for ChildLine Northwest, before moving to Essex to study for my degree in Psychology. I began volunteering as an advocate for children and young mental health service users before becoming an advocacy coordinator for adults with learning difficulties with Colchester Mind. Although I thoroughly enjoyed helping people as an advocate, I became a carer when my son was diagnosed with Autism. I’ve been a local parish councillor and a parent governor, as I like to ensure that people are informed about their options and to help find ways to solve problems. I also studied for a PGCE in Autism and Special Educational Needs and now, I have happily returned to advocacy with Autism Anglia. I chose to work with Autism Anglia as I like working with organisations that have a person-centred focus and I feel that, sadly, autistic people do not always get the support or understanding that they need to thrive. The role of an advocate is to help to change that, and that is why I love being an advocate.


Karina Heath - Volunteer Advocate 

I'm Karina I have 3 autistic children. I have been supporting parents for 6 years and have a diploma in send level 2, 3 and 4 and understanding Autism and ADHD. I have also achieved my IPSEA Level 1 SEN Law Training. I am working with the education and diagnosis team, helping with EHCP, education and diagnosis. Prior to this I was a care assistant. I am looking forward to supporting families navigate the education system and diagnosis pathway.


Kayleigh Osben - Volunteer Advocate

I'm Kayleigh, I am studying for a degree in child development and moving on to a MSc in Psychology 2022. I have 5 children and 3 have a diagnosis of Autism. I am working with the education and diagnosis advocacy team; supporting autistic young people with education rights, the EHCP process, and diagnosis.


Steph Routledge - Volunteer Advocate  

I am an Advocate for Education and Diagnosis. I started my journey with Autism 11 years ago; I am a Mum to two autistic children. In recent years I have supported my Children in the Healthcare system with their diagnosis; not only of Autism but other physical health needs; ensuring they are well supported by consultants and have regular reviews and attend specialist appointments. I have navigated through the Education system to ensure that they are in an educational setting that best suits their needs and abilities. I am also a Special Educational Needs Learning Support Assistant where I support children with their social, emotional and academic needs. Prior to that I was a Mental Health Nurse. I have attended various training in Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing difficulties and I am due to commence IPSEA SEND Law training. I am thrilled to work for Autism Anglia as an Advocate; providing support and advice to parents, families and young people navigating their way through services and overcoming challenges to reach solutions and goals together.