Monday 1st April: To mark World Autism Week 2019, Bluewater, Europe’s leading retail and leisure destination has announced that it will take significant steps over the next twelve months to prioritise autism-friendly services, with the aim of delivering a more inclusive retail experience.

Over 700,000 people in UK have been diagnosed with autism. According to the National Autistic Society, 50% of both autistic people and family members sometimes don’t go out because they’re worried about how people will react to their autism. 79% of autistic people and 70% of family members feel socially isolated with 28% of autistic people asked to leave a public space because of behaviour associated with their autism.

By introducing new services to guests, Bluewater hopes to tackle some of the barriers faced by people with autism and their families, including social isolation and a lack of understanding from the wider public. The new services will be introduced throughout 2019 and all will be in place by Autism Week 2020.

To mark World Autism Awareness Week Bluewater will offer daily quiet hours from 1st until 7th April; between 3pm-5pm with retailers invited to join in.  Bluewater is also hosting a special event for autistic children in the Place of Quiet room on Tuesday 2nd April, between 3pm-5pm. This event is designed to enable autistic children to start their visit to Bluewater in a specially created, calming environment. There’s no need to book a space, simply turn up.

Bluewater will also permanently introduce the following services to guests:

  • Weekly quiet hours. The quiet hours will reduce the amount of music and dim the lighting in central areas of Bluewater.
  • Sensory toy bags, which will be available for children with autism during their visit.
  • Downloadable and printed guides, to allow guests to familiarise themselves with the layout, look and feel of Bluewater in advance of their visit.
  • Hidden disability lanyards, to allow staff to proactively offer assistance.
  • The use of a quiet room, to allow families or individuals to rest in a calm, quiet space.
  • Autism-friendly screenings at Showcase Cinemas on the second Sunday of every month at 10am, with adjustments including soft lighting, lower volume and no trailers.

In addition, front of house staff will receive training in how to support guests with hidden disabilities.

Robert Goodman, General Manager at Bluewater, said: “We recognise the need to cater for neurodiversity for our guests as shopping experiences can be stressful and difficult. We’re confident that the measures we’ve introduced today are a step in the right direction to ensuring that Bluewater is accessible to all. We are fully committed to ensuring all of our guests have a positive experience and delivering a welcoming experience for those with autism and their carers.”