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(UK) Burnley: Local shopping center "autism friendly"; 11 others nationally

Aug 15, 2023, Burnley Express: Meet Charter Walk’s Autism Champions who support people with additional needs in Burnley town centre

NW England

Charter Walk Shopping Centre has trained several staff in autism awareness who carry backpacks filled with sensory toys to help any shoppers who feel overwhelmed.

They were introduced as part of a mission to make the town centre more autism-friendly, according to the centre manager.

Debbie Hernon said: “I think it’s massively important. A section of the community choose to spend their money online because they don’t feel comfortable enough to come to the town centre. We think all people should feel comfortable."

Charter Walk’s campaign has put the centre in the running for the Diversity Inclusion Scheme of the Year. It has been shortlisted for the second time in a row after competing against The Trafford Centre and Manchester Arndale to win in 2022.

It is also one of only 12 shopping centres nationally to be certified Autism Friendly.

Other initiatives to support autistic people include twice daily quiet hours from 9-10am and 4-5pm when retailers lower or completely turn off their background music and staff avoid carrying out any loud or obstructive tasks.

There is an autism-friendly visual guide to Charter Walk with video walk throughs on its website allowing people to familarise themselves with the shopping centre’s layout and facilities before they visit.

The Charter Walk Sensory Room and Budding Burnley Sensory Walkway are specially designed environments that can act as calming places for anybody with sensory challenges.

To use one of the sensory backpacks or to identify Charter Walk’s quiet zones, please ask for one of the Autism Champions at the Centre Management Office in St James’ Street.

"I think there are loads of parents out there in a similar situation struggling with this.” PCC said there has been an unprecedented rise in EHC assessments and applications for specialist school places.

The local authority added there is a shortage of educational psychologists, leading to delays in EHC assessments. Agency staff has been recruited to resolve this, and a plan has been allocated to Polly.

Councillor Suzy Horton, cabinet member for children, families and education, said: “We apologise to the family for the delays they have experienced. We have taken steps to address staff shortages and we are also working closely with schools during this time.

"We will be providing additional funding for pre-school pupils whose EHC needs assessment is currently underway but will not be completed by the start of term in September 2023. This funding will make sure that pupils starting school will be supported and will not be disadvantaged.”


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