Picture caption from left to right: Alex Brooker (Asset Management Director) at Elandi, Daniel Kitchen (Centre Manager) at the Swan Centre, Daniel Cadey (Development Manager) at the National Autistic Society, Robin Howland (Partner) at Workman, David Carter (Regional Manager) at the National Autistic Society, Caroline Main (Senior Associate) at Workman, Rachel Carter (National Autistic Society)

The Swan Centre in Eastleigh has been awarded an 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 Eastleigh are already familiar with its Sensory Sundays when, on the last Sunday of every month the Centre becomes a calmer place, the music is turned off, hand driers replaced with paper towels and stores are requested to either turn their in-store music off or have it at a low level, allowing 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 managing agent 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.  In addition, NAS helps train all staff to raise awareness of how to support people with autism.

As a result of the comprehensive approach to championing a truly accessible shopping centre environment for all visitors, the Swan Centre has been names as one of eleven shopping centres to receive the Autism Friendly accreditation. The award was presented on 30th November by Daniel Cadey Development Manager National Autistic Society.

“It is important that we work together to make shopping easier for people with autism,” said Alex Brooker, Director of Asset Management at Ellandi. “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 Swan Centre, but across the eleven shopping centres we manage on behalf Ellandi.”

All customer facing Swan 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.

“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 end of each month,” said Daniel Kitchen, Swan Centre Manager, “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.”

So far this year over 7,000 shops have already signed up to Autism Hour and the campaign is being backed by celebrities including Chris Packham, Anne Hegerty and Christine McGuinness. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.

There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK, as well as three million family members and carers. Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and can struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which can make busy public places, like shops, overwhelming.

Eastleigh’s Mayor, Bruce Tennent whose chosen charities this year include National Autistic Society said “It’s so important to raise awareness of disability including those which are not necessarily visible. It’s great to see that the Swan Centre is raising awareness of how autism affects people’s lives and what we can do as a society to make life easier for those with autism spectrum conditions.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “It’s wonderful to see so many well-known high street retailers have already signed up to Autism Hour – and ready to make the world a more autism friendly place.

“Autistic people represent a huge part of our society and it is a disgrace that 64% of autistic people avoid the shops. And, shockingly, 28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public place for reasons associated for their autism. They and their families want and deserve to have the opportunity to go to the shops, just like anyone else.

“The National Autistic Society wants a world which works for autistic people. With Autism Hour, we want to show retailers the small things they can do to help open up the high street for autistic people. Things like staff finding out a bit more about autism and making simple adjustments such as turning down music or dimming the lights. It’s often the smallest change that makes the biggest difference.”

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