Foyleside Shopping Centre has made a significant investment in its new sensory room, a unique space for children and young adults with autism and other sensory needs. The centre has worked closely with Autism NI to become more autism friendly with specific staff training and Wednesday evenings now being designated quiet evenings. The main mall and retailers will turn off in-store music to help make the shopping experience less stressful for customers affected by autism. These significant improvements to the centre mean Foyleside is in line to be one of the first shopping centre’s in the country to receive the Autism NI Impact Award.
The new sensory room is part of a wider initiative to improve accessibility for all in the centre. The new calming room features fibre optics, bubble tubes and other devices to help remove anxiety if the child or adult becomes distressed, as well as sound and light levels which can be customised throughout, depending on individual needs. It is an ideal place to deal with sensory overloads. Autism NI has also trained six Foyleside staff members to become centre champions. These champions are on hand to assist any child or adult with autism to plan and organise their shopping trips, directing them to the sensory room and other facilities and helping them deal with any possible chaotic experiences.
Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Shopping Centre Manager said, “We are absolutely thrilled to officially launch the new sensory room to help families deal with sensory overload if it happens while out shopping. Everyone should be able to enjoy the wide range of stores and eateries in Foyleside and we have worked closely with Autism NI to ensure we are well equipped to facilitate individuals with autism. We are also pleased to be launching the new quiet evenings, a fantastic initiative to raise awareness of the very real challenges autistic people face in their daily lives.”
Christine English from Autism NI added, “Shopping can be a stressful experience for autistic people and their families due to crowds and loud music. It is fantastic to see Foyleside Shopping Centre provide a brilliant space for those with autism to relax and unwind. Through the collective efforts of the centre retailers, the quiet evening every Wednesday will provide a welcome respite for those affected as well as lead to a greater understanding of the associated difficulties of the condition. Through our training with the six Foyleside champions, those with autism and their families can take comfort in knowing that additional assistance is available if necessary. This really is fantastic work from Foyleside and all its staff.”
The Foyleside Sensory Room is located at the back of the food court on Level 3. The quiet evenings will take place each Wednesday between 6pm until 9pm. Shoppers are encouraged to visit the customer service desk to request assistance from one of the Foyleside champions if they wish to avail of assistance or need guidance to the new sensory room. There will be a sensory pack at the customer service desk on level 3 in case an individual has forgot to bring their ear defenders as well as emergency bands which include a guardian’s phone number. These are useful if a young person wanders or gets lost frequently, allowing the Foyleside staff to easily identify these individuals. Foyleside will also be launching their brand-new website which will provide a pre-visit guide for customers, allowing individuals and their families to familiarise themselves with the centre’s facilities before their visit.