A pioneering scheme to encourage children, families and adults living with autism to enjoy matches at Leigh Sports Village has attracted hundreds of new fans to the stadium in its first few months.
The 12,005 capacity arena is one of the first in the country to be designated Autism Friendly, with an area set aside in the stands for those living with autism to feel comfortable and enjoy the game just like everyone else. All stewards are now trained “Autism Friends”, able to help and distribute ear defenders, while there are also virtual matchday videos which help those who might need help familiarise themselves with the stadium.
The Autism Friendly Stadium initiative was launched in partnership with Wigan Council, Leigh Community Trust, Leigh Sports Village, Leigh Centurions and Manchester United Women’s Team in April, and has proved incredibly popular.
“We had already designed a programme for children and families living with autism which encouraged them to take part in sport and feel comfortable and safe in a stimulating environment,” said LCT Programme Director Hannah Forbes of their A-Team Project. “The more families we met, the more we realised there were limited leisure time opportunities available to them.
“So over the last eight months we have worked with a number of autistic supporters to make Leigh Sports Village more accessible. And to see all our families from our A-Team programme on the pitch at the launch with massive smiles on their faces was a dream come true for us – since then they’ve come back to see more games, bought replica shirts… it’s wonderful to watch them feel a real part of the action now.”
As well as offering families living with autism the opportunity to watch top class sport live, as an Autism Friendly stadium Leigh Sports Village can provide reassurance to parents that the stands can be an unintimidating environment – no matter how exciting the action is on the pitch.
“My son gets anxious when going to new places,” said Yvonne, a parent of one of the A-Team members. “But LSV stewards made us feel so welcome, everything was calm and relaxed – they even switched the tannoy off in the part of the stand we were in.
“We could really enjoy the game instead of having to leave early – and we can’t wait to come back to our next game at Leigh Sports Village stadium. We had a great day.”
Leigh Sports Village Chief Executive Simon Toon said he was delighted to hear such positive feedback just a few months into the initiative.
“We have always said, and truly believe, that Leigh Sports Village is a welcoming stadium for everybody,” he said. “Leigh Community Trust’s work in the community means that we can identify, support and assist anyone who wants to come and enjoy the world class sport we have at the stadium. We’re so proud to be an Autism Friendly stadium.”