WIRRAL Autistic Society has launched the biggest appeal in its 45-year history.

The first phase of 'The Lifetime Appeal' will see the society's original home, Raby Hall, completely redeveloped at a cost of £755k to provide state of the art self-contained accommodation for eight people suffering from autism.

The appeal was launched at Eaton Park, the home of the society's President, the Duke of Westminster this week and hosted by Vice-President Dame Lorna Muirhead, Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside.

The campaign has already received a massive boost with a donation of £7,500 from Mike Rice, the owner of the Queen's Royal Hotel in New Brighton.

The hotel adopted the society as its charity more than a year ago and has already raised thousands of pounds.

Mr Rice said: "I was very touched by a video which was screened illustrating the urgent need for updated, modern residential facilities which will make such a difference to the clients lives.

"It is a great pleasure to donate the first one per cent that needs to be raised and we have a number of other fund-raising activities lined up."

The first building phase will be followed by the redevelopment of the society's four other other properties at Raby.

In all the work is expected to take ten years and cost in the region of a further £2.5m.

Guest speaker was Roy Castle's widow, Fiona, who comes from Wirral.

While the society's current facilities provide a fantastic service they are dated and far from ideal.

None of the rooms has its own bathroom, the corridors are narrow and claustrophobic and the downstairs rooms are noisy.

Under the first phase of the appeal the new building will provide purpose-built accommodation designed specifically for those with autism.

The society is a major part of Wirral's economy employing more than 500 people.

It was set up in 1968 by a group of six Wirral families desperate to provide support for their children as they approached adulthood.

Their first fund-raising event was a coffee morning which brought in 62p but within seven years enough money had been raised to buy Raby Hall.

The society's fundraiser, Rick Myers, said: "Good quality residential accommodation designed specifically for those with autism is in very short supply.

“There are only 3,000 places available throughout the UK to provide for half a million sufferers.

"In 2010 we opened The Ferns, a six-bedroom respite centre, at a cost of £1.3m raised entirely though charitable giving.

"We now have a far greater task ahead but already we have planned a range of fund-raising activities.

"The people of Wirral have been magnificent in supporting us in the past and I'm sure they will continue to do so in the future.

"We want to build something that will not only improve the quality of life for those with autism – we want to build something that we can leave for future generations."

Further information on the Lifetime Appeal and ways of helping to raise funds for it are available on www.wirral.autistic.org or 0151 643 5540.