ESSEX’S shops and businesses are being urged to sign up to the National Autistic Society’s first UK wide ‘Autism Hour’ which is being launched at intu Lakeside in the autumn.
Intu Lakeside is one of 14 intu shopping centres up and down the country working with the charity to launch the week-long event, with each of its retailers, restaurants and leisure operators being asked to reduce their lights, music and other background noise for an hour at 10am on Monday 2 October.
Shops and services in Essex and across the UK will be encouraged to follow intu’s lead by taking 60 minutes during the week to provide autistic people with a break from the usual overload of ‘too much information’ and create better environments for autistic customers.
Staff at intu Lakeside already receive training to provide autism-aware customer service and autistic people can also download or receive in-centre guides that allow them to plan and prepare a visit to the centre at intu.co.uk/lakeside. And last summer, shoppers in Essex were given the chance to try a virtual reality experience created by the National Autistic Society showing what an autistic person can experience in a shopping centre when it visited intu Lakeside as part of a national tour.
Ben Leeson, marketing manager at intu Lakeside said: “We will be asking every shop, restaurant and leisure brand in our centres to dim their lights and reduce their music for an hour and to raise awareness of autism among their staff and customers. We hope that launching the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour at intu Lakeside will encourage many more businesses to take these simple steps that will make life easier for the estimated 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their families.
“We want to put a smile on the face of everyone who visits intu Lakeside and this means training our staff, supporting our customers and working with brands in the centre as well as organisations like the National Autistic Society to provide a welcoming and accessible experience for all.”
The centre will be running an autism hour on 2nd October from 10am – 11am, which will be supported by a celebration of the National Autistic Society Thurrock 2nd Birthday until 1pm in The Central Atrium. This is the first attempt, as part of the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign, to create a national event, where shops and services help to reduce the overload that autistic people can experience in public.
A survey by The National Autistic Society suggests that 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops, and 28% have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated with their autism. The charity is asking shops and services to take simple steps for one hour to help create a more autism friendly world – from dimming the lights and turning down music to sharing information about autism with employees.
More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum which means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience which means they feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’ when out in public.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “We are delighted to team up with shopping centre owner intu for the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour. Like anyone, people on the autism spectrum and their families want the opportunity to go to the shops and access services. But many find the often busy, loud and unpredictable environment overwhelming. In fact, our recent survey revealed 64% of autistic people avoid going to the shops because of their autism.
“Our Too Much Information campaign is highlighting that the smallest changes can make the biggest difference for autistic people, that’s why, alongside intu, the National Autistic Society are asking shops and services to take simple steps for 60 minutes, from dimming the lights to turning down music.
“intu has pioneered autism-friendly shopping. We are honoured to continue our work with them, following the positive results we achieved when we launched our Too Much Information virtual reality experience at intu centres last year.
“We hope that more venues will be inspired to do their bit and make sure autistic people and their families have the same chance to enjoy shopping as everyone else.”
To find our more information about the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour, please visit: www.autism.org.uk/autismhour