A Kettering shopping centre has been recognised for making its environment more autism friendly.
The Newlands Shopping Centre has been given autism friendly accreditation from the National Autistic Society (NAS) in recognition of work to make shopping more accessible for people with autism spectrum conditions.
Shoppers visiting the centre in Kettering may already be familiar with its ‘Sensory Sundays’ when, on the first Sunday of every month, the Newlands Centre becomes a calmer place with music turned off, hand driers replaced with paper towels and stores requested to either turn their in-store music off or have it at a low level.
It allows shoppers – not only those who suffer from autism - to enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the overload of too much information.
Working with NAS, the shopping centre owner Ellandi and shopping centre managing agents Workman, have spearheaded a number of other initiatives, including providing sensory visual guides to help those planning a visit to the centre, and offering ‘alert cards’ used by visitors at their discretion.
The centre has been named as one of 11 shopping centres to receive the accreditation with an award presented last month.
Alex Brooker, director of asset management at Ellandi, said: “It is important that we work together to make shopping easier for people with autism.
“We have been working alongside our managing agent Workman and the National Autistic Society to raise awareness of autism spectrum conditions and improve accessibility at eleven of our community shopping centres and will continue to work with the NAS to deliver ongoing sensory support for our customers.”
Vicky Cotton, sustainability and wellbeing director at Workman LLP, said: “One in five people in the UK have some form of disability and not every disability is visible, which is why it is so important to cater for all needs in the shopping centre environment, in order to meet the needs of the whole community.
“This is an opportunity then to not just improve the centres but to also improve the lives of the community which it serves.
“We are proud of our work with the NAS to champion accessibility for all visitors, not just at The Newlands Centre, but across the 11 shopping centres we manage on behalf Ellandi.”
All customer-facing Newlands Centre staff have had training with the National Autistic Society to help them better understand the challenges that individuals on the autistic spectrum face, and how best to support them in the centre, should they need help.
Charmian Wright, operations manager, said: “We are proud to be working with the National Autistic Society to train our staff to offer the correct support to people with autism spectrum conditions.
“We have developed a sensory guide to take some of the unknowns out of a visit to our shopping centre and run Sensory Sundays at the beginning of each month.
“We are delighted to have now been awarded autism friendly accreditation by the National Autistic Society and look forward to an ongoing relationship which will see continued support of sensory initiatives and to offering a great customer experience to all.”