The North-East: a centre of excellence for inclusion

2nd Feb 2016

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The North-East: a centre of excellence for inclusion

A couple of weeks ago we were invited to Gateshead to speak to members of the Access Association's North East Regional Group.

The invitation followed on from one of the Changing Places workshops we held last year in Chesterfield which was attended by John Telfer, a member of the association. 

Our presentation at Gateshead Civic Centre on Accessible Tourism and Changing Places, was well-received and generated a good deal of discussion but, as ever, we learned just as much as we shared during our visit. In particular we were blown away by the efforts being made to make the Civic Centre a truly inclusive environment.

As soon as we entered the building we were greeted by a sign on reception promoting the building's Changing Places facility: a simple thing, quite literally, but so effective. This 'tactile' sign even had the Changing Places symbol represented in braille running along the bottom! The Changing Places toilet itself (described as 'Adult Changing' due to its size) was easily accessible and well-used in this busy building which feels like it is at the very heart of the community.

There was also a Quiet Room. A Quiet Room?  In a Civic Centre? What on earth for?

There are many reasons why someone might need the sanctuary of a Quiet Room, one of which is autism. As anyone who has autism or is close to someone with autism will know, the world can sometimes be an overwhelming place: too many people, too much noise, too many lights, too many of everything.........The result can be anxiety, distress, frustration, sometimes anger and confusion and can result in an autistic 'meltdown': a medical incident which requires space, peace and time for the person to recover.  It is for these situations, and indeed to help prevent these situations, that the Quiet Room in Gateshead has been in part designed.

With the help of government funding, Gateshead Access Officer Darren Ramshaw,with assistance from Gateshead Access Panel, have created a peaceful, tranquil haven. Simply furnished with a sofa and bean-bag and decorated in soothing colours, this space provides the perfect place for individuals to recover. The large windows have blinds that can be drawn for privacy and the lighting can be dimmed to a comfortable level. On the wall in a glass cabinet is a large TV screen controlled by an ipad which can display images of waterfalls, the ocean, a forest, a fish-tank or anything else you can think of, as a relaxing distraction. The room is just off the main reception area so help is near to hand if needed, yet it is well sound-proofed against the bustling world just outside. In addition there are 10 members of staff in the building trained as 'Autism Friends' who are on-hand to provide help and support if it is needed.

We were truly impressed with this outstanding place whose information, facilities and customer service have all been designed  with inclusivity in mind. As a result it is not just a Civic Centre: it is a centre of excellence!

Gillian and Jane.

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