Airdrie Football Club are to become the first in Scotland with a sensory room allowing children with Sensory Process Disorders such as autism to attend matches in comfort.
The Diamond Sensory Room, which officially launches on 18 February, is the brainchild of the club’s commercial manager Dougy Alsop and youth academy coach Stevie Burr whose son has autism.
Speaking of the project, Dougy said: “The club have worked with the trust and the stadium owners on several projects to make football in the town more accessible for everyone.
“The Diamond Sensory Room will build on our ‘Football for Everyone’ programme, and provide a safe and comfortable place for autistic children and their carers to watch home matches.”
As part of the planning, Stevie and Dougy approached English Premier League giants Watford and Sunderland – two of only three clubs in Britain to have such rooms – for feedback and advice.
The club also sought expert advice from Peter and Kate Shippey, founders of the Shippey Campaign, a charity aimed at encouraging all clubs throughout Britain to set up such rooms.
Their support and advice on sources of funding has helped steer the project at Airdrie, and both will be guests of honour at the game on Saturday and will officially open the room.
Kate said: “We’re really thrilled that Airdrie are going to be the first club in Scotland to have a sensory room. We really appreciate them involving us in this, they’re amazing people in an amazing club and we can’t wait to meet everyone.”
Her husband, Peter, added: “It’s a massive honour to open the room, we never expected that. It’s very humbling. Let’s get Airdrie on the map, with being the first club in Scotland to do this. Great work everyone!”
While some equipment has already been purchased, the aim is to raise £10,000 to install specialised accessories in the room. The trust is funding some of this money, while the project team are exploring grants, sponsorship and donations.
Dougy added: “We are delighted to be the first team in Scotland to open such a facility, and hope that what we have achieved can be replicated at clubs big and small throughout the country.
“BT have set up funding for English Premier League teams, but it’s something that can and should be replicated across the board.”
Majella Hope, Senior Group Worker for Sports, at the Hope for Autism Group in Airdrie is relishing the opening of the room, adding: “The setting up of The Diamond Sensory room will enable local families to enjoy some quality time together in an environment that supports young people with Autism.
“Football matches for young people with Autism can be a daunting experience – noise levels, crowds and the unpredictability of the game all have the potential to cause Sensory Overload.
“Being able to view the game from an Autism friendly box would ensure young people have the opportunity to attend games in a more comfortable environment and allow them to experience the joy of football something many families have not experienced together before.
“This is a fantastic projects will really does encompass the idea of ‘Football for everyone’.”
Excelsior Stadium have assisted the club and trust in the project, and boss Paul Hetherington said: “Excelsior Stadium are very happy to support this project alongside AFC as encouraging as many kids as possible to support their local team will always be a priority.”
Capacity of the room will be restricted to 10 children and 10 parents/carers. Bookings will be taken in advance as demand is anticipated to be high, and enquiries should be directed to both email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org