Meadowhall launches first Autism-friendly hour

Meadowhall opened its doors an hour earlier on Saturday April 7th to allow families with autistic children to come into the Centre when it is virtually empty.

Dozens of stores – including Next, M&S, Primark and Debenhams – opened at 8am for the VIPs to allow the children to familiarise themselves with the Centre but in a less stressful environment.

The visit was arranged jointly between Meadowhall’s customer service team and Sparkle Sheffield, the award-winning charity set up specifically by and for families with autistic children.

“This is the first Autism-friendly Hour Meadowhall has trialled, but we hope it will help the families feel more comfortable in their surroundings having visited when the stores and malls are much quieter than normal,” said Meadowhall Customer Experience Co-ordinator Paula Windle.

“Over recent months we have also been trialling a special sensory room in the centre where autistic visitors can go for a bit of “time out” if they start to feel overwhelmed. It has special mood lighting and seating and we have been very lucky to be advised by Sparkle Sheffield, which has also worked with us on other autistic-friendly projects.”

Liesje Dusauzay, Founder and CEO of Sparkle Sheffield added: “Shopping Centres can be bewildering places for children with autism; the unfamiliar sounds, sights and crowds can be so daunting that families will avoid them, which is a shame as everyone misses out.

“That’s why this Autism-friendly Hour at Meadowhall is so important and gives the children and their families time and space to get to know the centre in a calm and controlled manner. It can make such a difference and we are delighted that so many of the major retailers have joined in and are supporting us.”

As well as Autism-friendly Hour, Meadowhall has also invested in staff awareness and training – both delivered by Sparkle Sheffield – and turned its main dome blue for Autism Awareness over the same weekend.

Meadowhall has also been supported by Rompa, which loaned Meadowhall the sensory equipment for its trial and is also involved with the Autism-friendly Hour by equipping an additional sensory room in a unit on The Lanes which was open both Saturday and Sunday.