About The Engine Shed

The Engine Shed is a special interest group for autistic children, young people and adults. The club enables those with an interest in trains to come together with their peers to observe, play, talk and enjoy their hobby in a welcoming, safe and relaxing environment  – and where parents/carers, as appropriate, can have a chance to relax, and talk in a supportive atmosphere.

Model railways and train sets for all abilities are set up and a range of train-related resources are available for participants to play with.

At the moment there are two groups: one in Reading and one in Chingford, North East London. Both groups meet monthly. There are also occasional opportunities with both groups to visit special train related attractions in their areas.

We are delighted to have Lady Judy McAlpine as our Patron. Lady McAlpine is a railway enthusiast and wife of the late Sir William McAlpine, who of course rescued the Flying Scotsman train from the USA. The Engine Shed has benefited from rides on the railway at Fawley Hill estate as well as participating in the charity steam fair held in the grounds.

We are grateful for support from Comic Relief via Berkshire Community Foundation, The People’s Postcode Trust, The Earley Charity and funding from The People’s Health Trust using money raised through The Health Lottery in London West.

The organisation was initially set up in 2009, when Trustee/Founder Sarah Snow was awarded an UnLtd Award for some pilot sessions.  From the very first session it was clear that The Engine Shed was valued by the autistic children and their families who came along.

The key aims of The Engine Shed are:

  • To provide a unique special interest facility for autistic children, young people and adults and their families or carers;
  • To provide an opportunity for families to share and learn new strategies for promoting the learning and social skills of our children, using their love of trains as an entry point;
  • To create a friendly and supportive atmosphere in which all children, siblings, parents and other family members can feel comfortable and relaxed;
  • To involve brothers and sisters in the often solitary activities of their siblings on the autistic spectrum;
  • To provide opportunities for brothers and sisters with autistic siblings to share experiences.

Everybody is welcome. If you think your child or someone that you know would enjoy the sessions, please come along. There is no charge for attendance.

Why we do not charge for attendance

The Engine Shed is committed to accessibility. We have always sought to remove obstacles to individuals and families attending Engine Shed sessions – you do not need to book, you do not pay, refreshments are free. There are now a number of toy train-related activity schemes which are charging £9-£10 for a two hour session. If you have 3 children like many of our attendees do, this equates to £27-£30 for two hours of playing with trains in a local hall.  This is beyond the reach of many of the people who would benefit from the club’s activities. We remain committed to this no-cost model which is part of The Engine Shed’s success.

What people say about The Engine Shed:

‘This is the only place where I can take Michael that he is genuinely relaxed and where he is happy to just be himself’.

‘It is great to have the chance to sit and chat – the children are so happy and they can’t ‘escape!’. It is very relaxing for all of us’.

‘Ryan loves taking over the controls and the patience and understanding of the railway volunteers is fantastic. Thank you very much.’

‘I am not allowed to miss a session, which is fine because I love coming too – I think we have missed one session in two and a half years!’

‘The railway layouts are fantastic – we would never have the space at home and it is great that the children are genuinely encouraged to take over the controls. It doesn’t matter if they crash which is a great relief’.