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Manchester Fort Shopping Park

Manchester gains international recognition for shopping centre ‘quiet hour’ scheme for autistic visitors

Manchester Fort Shopping Park will be starring in a documentary produced by Japanese broadcast company NHK, which focuses on how different countries support people with disabilities.

The documentary will analyse the use of Manchester Fort’s ‘Quiet Hour’, which takes place every Saturday morning between 9am and 10am, and is aimed at providing visitors with a welcoming environment with lower noise levels and less disturbances.

NHK, which is Japan’s national public broadcasting organisation (similar to the BBC in the UK) sent researcher Ikuko White and team to visit Manchester Fort on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th April, to see the techniques used at the Cheetham Hill-based shopping park to help minimise the sensory overload some individuals with autism experience when visiting.

Ikuko said: “In the documentary we are looking to explore the different ways in which nations support people with disabilities and medical conditions and we have come to the UK to investigate its approach towards supporting shoppers with special needs.

“When we discovered that Manchester Fort had implemented a ‘Quiet Hour’ for its shoppers we were fascinated by it and wanted to see how it has helped to create a comfortable and supportive environment for those on the spectrum.

“The initiative has brought a positive response and we are keen to show people in Japan that there are many different ways to support people with disabilities and help them lead normal lives.”

Manchester Fort has worked closely with the Autistic Society Greater Manchester Area to implement the initiative into participating stores across the centre. The society has provided insight and advice to each store and offers support to the centre on creating a better shopping experience.

The ‘Quiet Hour’ allows retailers to take actions such as reducing noise and lighting levels in store, while members of staff are briefed and provided with information to help better understand the needs of children and adults with autism. If required, there is a ‘happy zone’ located on the shopping park, which families can use for any crisis that may occur whilst shopping.

Derek Askew, centre manager of Manchester Fort, said: “Since we began the ‘Quiet Hour’ scheme at Manchester Fort, we have received a pleasing positive response from visitors bringing family members with autism and other special needs.

“It was always our aim to create a happier, more relaxed shopping environment for those who find the peak-time atmosphere overbearing. Launching the quiet hour has given many visitors a convenient window to do their shopping with their children or family members, without the worry of them being overwhelmed.

“To have the scheme receive international exposure from NHK is something we’re very proud of here at Manchester Fort, and we hope viewers in Japan will learn from our approach to supporting people with disabilities in the UK, and hopefully adopt similar initiatives.”