who we are

mel duncan

Co-Founder, Wellbeing Lead & Mentor.  Autistic and ADHD

Mel is Autistic and ADHD and her expertise and dedicated interest is in all things Neurodivergent. She has over 30 years experience working within social care, has worked with young people within the criminal justice system, young people and adults experiencing addiction and mental ill health, young people in local authority care and with Autistic and ADHD students in alternative provision. She has also managed an Advocacy service and leaving care provision as well as running a successful business. 

Mel holds a First Class Honours Degree in English language with Creative writing. She is currently studying for a Masters degree. Mel’s other interests include outdoor learning, Forest School, bushcraft and anything to do with nature and the outdoors. She competes in Agility and Hoopa with her rescued Staffordshire Bull Terrier Sunny and her recently rescued Staffy x Collie, Maddie. 

Emily Hartley-heaven

Co-Founder, Placement Coordinator, Designated Safeguarding Lead

Emily has a degree in Psychology, a Masters in Education and has over ten years experience in developing and managing alternative provision. She has extensive experience of supporting neurodivergent students and students struggling with their mental health. Emily is committed to ensuring the student’s voice is central to the ethos and practice of the Gecko Community. 

When Emily isn’t working she can be found participating in a variety of arts and crafts with her two young children, regularly getting splattered with brightly coloured paint and glitter. 

piers hartley

Co-Founder, Secondary Lead, Science &  Computer Science Teacher. Autistic

Piers Hartley was instrumental in establishing two alternative provision schools during his role as Head of Development at Red Balloon and has over 15 years experience of teaching within this specialist field. He has taught Computing, Science and PSHE at GCSE level and has extensive experience working with neurodivergent students who have anxiety and trauma. 

Piers specialises in technology enhanced pedagogy, building virtual worlds and helped to develop a multi-award winning online learning platform. Piers enjoys gaming and game design.

Anjali singh

Project Teacher and GCSE Teacher 

Anjali Singh has eight years’ experience of teaching vulnerable young people in alternative settings, including two years of teaching online. She has a Primary PGCE as well as extensive experience of teaching core subjects at secondary level, particularly Maths and English Language/ Literature. Anjali has an MA in Applied Theatre, and has trained in Mantle of the Expert, a drama-based approach to learning. She was the lead teacher on the first ever (to our knowledge!) online Mantle of the Expert project. Outside of education Anjali writes and performs theatre and cabaret.

Cindy Woods

Project Teacher. Neurodivergent

Cindy Woods has been working in special needs education since completing a degree in Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies in 2012. Cindy was awarded a PGCE certificate in 2014 whilst teaching in the Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Department (LDD) of Reading College. She then went on to teach Biology and PSHE, working with secondary aged students who have experienced trauma. Cindy worked alongside Anjali to deliver Mantle of the Expert in an online format, which was very successful. 

Having studied Health Science for 3 years in Australia, Cindy also works as a Naturopath and has a passion for traditional medicine.  Last year she qualified as a Mindfulness in Schools teacher, which has so far been very well received.

Jo fliski

Project Teacher and GCSE Teacher. ADHD/RSD 

Jo has a degree in English and American Studies and a PGCE in Secondary English teaching. She has been a SENCO and has 10 years of experience teaching young people with emotional needs and English as a second language in a behaviourally challenging school. She has taught in a variety of settings including mainstream schools, Primary school, supporting deaf/blind students at college, supporting ND students who have been excluded from mainstream schools, teaching in specialist units, playschemes for Autistic children, summer schools for children considered at risk as well as Steiner school. 

Jo is also a Freelance Writer, Education consultant and judge for the BBCs 500 word competition. Jo is passionate about providing learning that suits the needs of the learner and developing relationships with young people that suit them and their personality and interests. Jo loves being on the beach with her young family of ND and Autistic children and swimming in the sea.

jo tyler

Project Teacher and GCSE Teacher  

Jo has an HND in Environmental Engineering, a degree in maths and statistics, a PGCE in secondary maths education and a Masters in teaching and learning. She worked in an inner city school as a maths teacher and head of department teaching GCSE and A level maths and BTEC Engineering. Jo left mainstream education 4 years ago because she could see how neurodiversity and mental health issues were not recognised in school in both students and staff, having Bipolar herself. 

Since leaving she has been an exam marker, private maths tutor and yoga teacher. Jo loves supporting and getting to know children through 1:1 tutoring when they find they can’t meet the expectations of school. To help support young people more she is currently training to be a counsellor.


Project Teacher. Neurodivergent

Abi has a BSc (hons) Biology degree, and a PGCE in Secondary Science.  She has been teaching for over 20 years in a variety of settings, including mainstream education, as a field studies tutor and in an alternative outdoor educational setting for home educated children. Abi is now running her own tutoring business, which she set up in 2017. She has extensive experience of working with neurodivergent students and students that have anxiety. 

Abi has two children which she home educated for 3 years, due to school placements breaking down. Her eldest child is currently awaiting an assessment for ADHD and is possibly autistic, they are just figuring that out what that means for them at the moment. 

Abi loves the outdoors, particularly spending time at the beach and going on camping adventures. She also enjoys spending time in the garden and at her allotment.

sarah field

Mentor and Maths Teacher. Autistic and ADHD

Sarah has a first-class degree in Mathematics and Key Stage 2/3 Education.  She worked in a number of secondary schools for five years, before starting her own Maths tutoring business in 2020.  Sarah works with students across all ages and is passionate about creating a safe space which enables young people to express themselves and learn in a way which suits them.  

Sarah does a lot of Maths in her spare time, as well as dancing, singing and teaching Powerhoop.  Oh, and Max the cat usually makes an appearance each session.

Slade Riverfield

Mentor (Autistic and ADHD)

Slade is our Lead Mentor and LGBTQ+ support. Slade lives on a narrowboat in Warwickshire with their cats Freddie and Penguin. 

Slade brings a wealth of experience and a unique perspective to their work as a mentor, having spent over two decades nurturing and guiding children and young people as a nursery worker and classroom assistant and 15 years as a private nanny. Their passion for crafting, cooking, and creative writing knows no bounds, finding solace and inspiration aboard their boat-turned-sanctuary and studio.

Slade likes to work slowly and diligently, taking time to forge a relationship with their mentees. They have a unique understanding of difficult subjects such as mental health, suicide and self harm and how these things may manifest in autistic youth.  Slade had a misdiagnosis in their 20s and took it upon themself to learn as much as possible about these things that affected their life. Slade was then diagnosed as autistic in February 2023 and was encouraged to pursue an ADHD diagnosis separately.

Slade is not a gamer in the general sense of the word but is slowly becoming proficient in Minecraft building and enjoys word games on Roblox.

Beyond their mentoring role, Slade holds qualifications in alternative therapies, play, sleep, and behaviour support. Slade also runs an organisation as an LGBTQ+ perinatal support worker, advocating for inclusivity and understanding within the birth community.

Debbie hughes

Mentor. AuDHD (Autistc and ADHD)

Debbie has a wide range of skills and interests including Art, History, and English Literature. She has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in English Literature. In her free time she likes to play PC, Playstation, and Nintendo Switch video games, reading, crafts like needle-felting, wreath-making and journaling. She also is particularly interested in The Lord of the Rings legendarium and films, watching TV and films, music, and brewing many different types of tea.

My favourite games so far are The Long Dark, Spiritfarer, and Genshin Impact. Multiplayer-wise I have played Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft, and am always up for others. I also have a keen interest in wildlife and conservation and have done volunteering for WWT and the London Wildlife Trust

dan wright

English (GCSE/A Level) and Maths Teacher. Autistic

Dan started his working life as a secondary English teacher, and also helped set up and deliver an alternative project-based curriculum at a large secondary school in Nottingham. He soon realised that he really enjoyed working with autistic students and those with other neurodivergent conditions, so he became a teacher and tutor for students with additional needs. 

Dan strongly believes that all young people deserve an education which respects them as individuals, meets their needs and helps them to use their strengths and interests. These principles are at the heart of his tutoring sessions. 

Dan is currently completing a masters degree in the Autism Spectrum. When he’s not doing that, he enjoys listening to music, gaming and crafting with his children, and playing with his dog

liz mouland

Mentor. Neurodivergent

Liz has been supporting children and young people for over a decade; in an education setting and privately. Liz is a BSc (Hons) Psychology graduate, a member of the British Psychological Society, a trained ELSA and a qualified Mindfulness Teacher. Liz’s favourite personal qualities are her empathy and her instincts. She loves to spend time researching all things neurodivergence. Liz also loves TV, Netflix (Stranger Things rules!), film, all sorts of music (but Foo Fighters Rock!), art, travel, being creative, writing, time with her favourite people, helping others and time alone.

Liz has two awesome children who have been teaching her how to game. Through researching her childrens’ potential neurodivergences she has discovered a lot about her own identity, which has been validating. Liz has multiple late identified neurodivergences, and believes that society must change to enable neurodivergent people to be their authentic selves, to thrive, and to have equality among neurotypes. 

david grAy-hammond

Mentor. Autistic 

David has experience of working with neurodivergent children and young people between the ages of four to adulthood and regularly consults as a specialist with SEND young people with complex needs. 

David was a cadet sergeant for St John Ambulance, spent a year as a member of the National Youth Lead Team, was the Chief Operating Officer of NeuroClastic, Inc., and is currently a presenter and educator for Aucademy. 

David spent time representing the treatment rights of Autistic people experiencing active addiction. David was formerly a Director of Give Street Project CIC, an organisation that facilitates donation collection for front line organisations tackling food poverty and homelessness. In David’s free time, he is a published poet, musician, and keen gamer.

eliza beck

Project Teacher. Neurodivergent

Eliza has a degree in printed and woven textiles and is a qualified secondary teacher.  She has taught a range of subjects in her 18 years in mainstream including PSHE, design technology, fashion, textiles, graphics, food science and art and design.  

During the last 5 years in mainstream, Eliza developed her teaching practice within SEND and supported the learning and well being of neurodivergent young people. This included supporting literacy and numeracy development. 

Eliza is a projects teacher with Gecko and facilitates learning via interest based collaborative learning journeys.   She loves supporting practical projects and can often be found cooking or painting with students during sessions. 

Eliza is the Arts Award Adviser for Gecko.  She has also supported students working towards  ASDAN courses in various subjects and GCSE English Language.

Zoe Laughton


Mentor and Project Teacher. Autistic

Zoe loved children, languages and books when she left school so, after gaining a degree in French & Italian, followed her interests and became a Foreign Editions Editor for a Children’s book publisher. Zoe missed the children though, so trained to teach in 2008 and has loved working with young people ever since. 

Her love of the natural world led her to train as a Forest School leader when her own children were small and, up until joining Gecko, she has been combining mainstream teaching with leading Forest School sessions for primary aged children. Repeated praise from children and parents at ‘getting them in a way that had not happened before’ finally led to the big penny dropping that she too was autisic and her whole life then made sense. 

Zoe is happiest in the woods, sometimes running, sometimes discovering a new mushroom or wildflower. She is excited to be able to combine what she loves doing with being authentically autistic in working with Gecko.


Gecko has been a lifeline for Ellie, she does not trust people or open up easily but her autistic mentor has gained her trust and Ellie considers her a friend. She feels validated is now learning to see that being neurodiverse is nothing to be ashamed of, she is learning to embrace it.


“N really enjoyed his Explorers sessions.  He struggled with English at school but now has much more confidence in his abilities and has enjoyed doing some English schoolwork during lock down.  Thanks so much to Gecko Community for helping N to realise he is creative and believe in himself more, and also for giving him something to look forward to each week!


“My son was disengaged and unable to attend school at the point of getting Gecko involved. He’s now been involved for 8 months in therapeutic child led mentoring, and happily engages in every session using gaming. The positive role model of a neurodivergent mentor is invaluable in helping my son start to understand his difficulties.”


Gecko has the most amazing teachers, they focus on helping my son access learning in a way that meets his needs. My son’s lessons have been tailored to his specific needs and he is making excellent progress. Gecko has changed my son’s life, his self esteem continues to grow. We think Gecko is fantastic, they support our son to continue to learn in a way that supports him. Kind caring compassionate and committed to my child’s education, what more could a parent or student want?