Liverpool forges ahead with autism friendly city ambition

Hundreds of people from organisations across Liverpool are now autism aware, thanks to a new scheme from North West charity Autism Together and Liverpool social enterprise Autism Adventures UK.

The two organisations partnered earlier this year with the aim of turning Liverpool into one of the UK’s first autism-friendly cities.

The ten inaugural Liverpool Autism Champions (including Everton FC, National Museums Liverpool Liverpool John Airport and retail destination Liverpool One) have now been joined by five branches of Costa Coffee, NatWest bank and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

So much interest in autism-awareness training has been expressed by smaller Liverpool organisations that the project team is arranging to host group workshops  for individuals or small teams. The first workshops will take place on Wednesday 14 September at the Wirral Centre for Autism in Bromborough.

Robin Bush, CEO of Autism Together, said:

“We’ve been astonished by the level of interest in this project. Shortly after our launch in April, we received a number of emails from organisations interested in becoming champions. The emails have never stopped. We’ve trained around 500 people so far and we’ve been talking to everyone from iconic Liverpool arts organisations to sports and leisure clubs to local corner shops.”

In addition to autism awareness training, many of Liverpool’s new Autism Champions have taken further steps make the city’s autism community feel welcome.

  • Soft play venue Mattel Play at Albert Dock is now running monthly autism-friendly play sessions.
  • Liverpool John Lennon Airport has created an autism awareness voucher that families can pre-order, ready for travel. The voucher entitles the user to extra support, such as being guided through the airport by a special assistance service provider or being fast-tracked through security to avoid the stress of queuing.  
  • National Museums Liverpool has held its first autism-friendly afternoon at the World Museum on William Brown Street.  Whilst the museum stayed open for all visitors, staff ensured the building was quieter and less crowded than usual.  Visitors were able to enjoy low-volume sessions at the planetarium and drop-in sessions at the aquarium and bug house.  Quiet spaces were signposted throughout the building.
  • The Clark’s store at New Mersey Retail Park in Speke will be trialling autism-friendly shoe fitting sessions on quiet Sunday mornings and early evenings, which can be pre-arranged by phone.  During these sessions the shop lights will be dimmed and music turned down.

Founder of Autism Adventures, Julie Simpson, said:

“I’m as driven as ever.  I still go round knocking on people’s doors and asking them to be autism friendly.  I’m definitely not ready to sit back and say that everything’s alright now – there’s so much work to be done.  But I am starting to see the difference we are making.

“I was at Mattel Play for an autism-friendly session recently and a woman said to me that she’d been desperate to bring her son there but it was always too busy and she knew he wouldn’t have been able to cope. She was so happy to be able to give him the chance to join in during a quieter session.”

To become an Autism Champion an organisation makes a public commitment to train its staff in autism awareness. This includes how to recognise the signs that someone may have autism and how to handle challenging behaviour.  Champions are also encouraged to make small adjustments to their premises to improve access to those with autism:  they may advertise a quiet space, for people experiencing anxiety, or agree to clearer signage or less glaring lighting.

Autism Together and Autism Adventures say action is needed as such a significant number of people are on the autism spectrum – one in every hundred or around 700,000 nationally – and many are excluded from their own communities through lack of understanding and support.

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