Preston Clash To Mark Autism Awareness Matchday


The Hornets are delighted to designate this weekend’s match against Preston North End as our annual Autism Awareness Matchday.


Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like everybody, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses.


Autism is a hidden disability, and autistic people face discrimination and barriers across all sectors of society – in the health and social care systems, in education, in employment, and everywhere in between.


It is crucial that autistic people, and their families and carers, can access tailored information, guidance and support to overcome those barriers, along with opportunities to explore their interests, develop skills and build friendships for fulfilled lives.


Here at Watford FC, we’ve been working with families and local organisations to make our stadium and workplaces as Autism-friendly as possible since making a commitment to accessibility in 2015.


Watford were among the first clubs to open a Sensory Room in the stadium, to provide access to matches for those autistic children with sensory differences who may otherwise find the noisy environment of a football stadium challenging.


The Sensory Room provides a calming area and offers an excellent view of the match from a comfortable and accessible viewing location. It features lower levels of natural daylight, sensory facilities for children to enjoy while watching the football and more open space so children do not feel crowded or uncomfortable.


The room is staffed by trained special needs professionals who are on hand to welcome and support families attending the game, and Harry the Hornet also visits the children at half-time to further brighten their afternoon.


The Sensory Room is also used during the week by local community groups and Watford FC Community Sports & Education Trust programmes, including the Golden Memories project for those with dementia.


The club also has several pairs of ear defenders available for use across the stadium, which can be collected from the Sky Lounge Reception on Vicarage Road when supporters arrive at the stadium and are then returned there after the match.


In March last year, The Hornets Shop at The Vic introduced an inclusive shopping morning every Tuesday with screens and music turned off to provide a comfortable and accessible shopping experience for those with sensory needs.


Both the club and Trust have also reached level two of the Disability Confident Scheme and have started working towards level three, which will see us become Disability Confident Leaders as we aim to bring more people with disabilities into our workplaces. As part of that work, we have a partnership with Step2Skills.


As part of Hertfordshire County Council, the Step2Skills adult community learning and employment support service provides opportunities for adults from across the county to get involved in learning and employment within the community. The service works with people who face barriers to education and employment such as Autism, as well as learning or physical disabilities, and those with low skills or mental health conditions.


The club has also provided access for local charities, including Watford Mencap, who have attended evening matches in the Sensory Room with their service users and Anna Kennedy Online, who have held three family fun days at the stadium, which provided an opportunity for autistic children, with their parents and carers, to explore the ground at their own pace and in a quieter environment.


During the day, the group met Junior Hornets patron Ann Swanson and the tour ended in the dressing room, where the group were surprised with an appearance of men’s first-team players Tom Ince, Edo Kayembe and Jack Grieves.


“Many of the youngsters that came expressed their desire to come back to the ground for a real game and this is exactly what it’s all about,” said Jo Wiggins from Anna Kennedy Online. “We had so many lovely messages thanking us for a wonderful day; it makes it all worthwhile. We hope to do another one soon as this proved so popular that we now have a waiting list for the next one.”


“Making provision for those living with Autism is something that fits well with our history of pioneering facilities for families at Vicarage Road,” said Dave Messenger, the club’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead.


“The support from our community partners and staff, not to mention the families who’ve used the Sensory Room, has been a huge part of this success and we’re incredibly proud of everything we’ve achieved and to have made our stadium and workplaces Autism friendly.”


To enquire about spaces in the Sensory Room for matches, to book a pair of ear defenders or discuss other matchday requirements relating to autism spectrum disorder, please email or call our Supporter Services team on 01923 223023.

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