Wasps are the first top-tier rugby club to launch a pitch-facing sensory room for people with disabilities.
The club’s community team have converted two hospitality boxes at the Ricoh Arena into a quiet viewing room and a separate sensory space, where adults and children with autism and other disabilities can watch the action whilst being shielded from loud noise and bright lights.
The sensory room is split into two areas. There is a viewing room where people can sit on bean bags, chairs or high stools to watch the action, and if feeling overwhelmed, there is an adjacent space with calming sensory equipment such as bubble tubes and fibre optic lights.
The idea came about after Wasps fan Neil Boon was inspired by the efforts of the Shippey Campaign, which is a project encouraging the use of viewing sensory rooms within stadiums.
He approached the club after his seven-year-old twins Samuel and Thomas, who both have autism, couldn’t stay for a full rugby match inside the stadium due to the loud noise and lights.
Neil said: “Families that have children with autism often feel isolated because they feel like they can’t attend matches, but all of that can now change.
“My son Samuel really struggles with noise but even he has been able to come outside for a few minutes to sample the atmosphere before going back into the sensory room.
“We tried the room out at the first game of the season and it was noticeable how much calmer the boys were and how much more they enjoyed and engaged with the experience of being at a rugby match – they were more concerned with what was happening on the pitch rather than everything else around them.
“As parents it was also noticeable how much calmer we were – we weren’t constantly on tenterhooks wondering when the boys were going to start struggling – we could just sit back and enjoy the game ourselves.
Up to four people and their parents or carers can now watch Wasps home matches for free during the 2018/19 season.
Jordan Young, community development officer at Wasps, has been overseeing the creation of the sensory room.
He said: “An inclusive approach is at the heart of all of our community engagement in schools and local rugby clubs, and we’re thrilled to take this one step further on match days by opening up a dedicated space for people with disabilities to watch rugby.
“We are massively grateful to the stadium management in making this a reality, and Justine Hewitt – Head of Operations at the Ricoh Arena, who has helped drive this exciting project forward.
“We have trialled the concept at home games this season which has worked well, and we look forward to making it available for the rest of the season and beyond.”
Those looking to book a space in the sensory room for one of Wasps’ upcoming home matches should email firstname.lastname@example.org
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