Late autism diagnosis prompts man to open Geek Retreat in St Helens

A CRITICAL illness and a late diagnosis of autism led to a reassessment of a man’s life and the subsequent opening of a popular gambling café in St Helens town centre.

Suffering from headaches for a few months, Ian Emery, from Wirral, signed up for a health check for the Office of National Statistics in 2019, aged 54.

After worrying results, Ian’s GP referred him to Arrowe Park Hospital for immediate tests, where the father-of-two was told he was seriously ill.

Not knowing that he was suffering from a serious medical condition, Ian was told that he had suffered four transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are similar to strokes, and that he had suffered ” significant brain damage”.

READ MORE: Geek Retreat shop launched in St Helens town center

Ian decided to open a Geek Retreat franchise after reflecting on his life

Ian, who worked in project management for 25 years, had to undergo heart surgery and an intense rehabilitation program that included strength training and relearning how to walk.

As part of his rehabilitation, Ian also had appointments with occupational therapists.

The results of his assessments informed Ian that he had “communication difficulties” and was “pretty high on the scale” for autism.

At the age of 54, such a diagnosis came as an eye opener for Ian, but began to make more sense as he reflected on his life and the difficulties he faced as a child and in his social background. .

St Helens Star: Ian and Chris Jones have made the decision to open Geek Retreat in St HelensIan and Chris Jones made the decision to open Geek Retreat in St Helens

Following an acrimonious split with his employer at the time, Ian found solace in gaming cafe Geek Retreat in Wirral and was “taken aback by its friendly community”.

With a lifelong love for the Dungeons and Dragons board game and a new awareness of the culture of acceptance at Geek Retreat, it led him to search for the right place to open his own franchise.

With the help of Chris Jones, also from Wirral, the couple opened Geek Retreat on Bridge Street in St Helens town center in October 2021.

St Helens Star: Ian and Chris with St Helens Council Leader David BainesIan and Chris with St Helens Council Leader David Baines

By opening the gaming cafe as an “inclusive and safe environment”, Ian wanted to create a store he wished he had in his youth.

With a focus on socially isolated people, LGBT groups and people with disabilities, Geek Retreat clients are also offered support through regular sessions with local services such as Citizens Advice, mental health professionals and Torus housing.

Although the Bridge Street store had problems with anti-social behavior earlier in the year, Ian said an increased police presence had had a significant impact on this and customers again felt safe returning to the coffee.

READ MORE: Reducing anti-social behavior by keeping Geek Retreat in St Helens

St Helens Star: Ian wanted to open Geek Retreat as a place he wished he had when he was youngerIan wanted to open Geek Retreat as a place he wished he had when he was younger

Ian, now 57, said: “Thinking back to when I was young, I often sat in the corner struggling to make friends and didn’t have a place like Geek Retreat to come to.

“We all have setbacks in life and I want to demonstrate to our clients that these don’t have to be an obstacle for you.

“Since opening in St Helens, many like-minded people have come to the store as a place to meet and socialise.

“They enjoy the support and acceptance of our staff, and many call it their ‘third place’ after home and school.”