Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way: shopping centres and venues across the UK are creating adaptable grotto experiences to ensure no child has to miss out.
Some of these venues have specific “quieter” hours for children and others reduce the amount of festive-themed characters around the grotto.
If you want to book, some venues allow you to book dedicated SEN slots online and others may need to be contacted in advance.
We’ve listed some places where kids can visit sensitive Santa’s grottos in the UK below. Keep checking back and we’ll update as we find more.
Father Christmas At Howgate Shopping Centre
Where? Falkirk, Scotland.
The Howgate Shopping Centre contacted their local Sensory Centre (where people with visual or hearing loss can access services and advice) to find out what they could do to make their shopping centre accessible.
The main challenge that came up was their Santa’s grotto, with many parents of kids with SEN admitting their kids found the enclosed space difficult and a “sensory overload”.
The centre decided to make its grotto, as well as all other events at the centre, suitable for children with SEN.
“This year we held autism awareness training for all our staff which was delivered by the National Autistic Society (NAS) as well as sign language, sighted guiding and dementia awareness training so our staff are confident in dealing with all types of customers,” a spokesperson from the centre told HuffPost UK.
“We open our grotto one hour early every Sunday so that families who have children with additional needs can book a private visit.
“We find out as much information as possible about the child so staff are prepared and we meet them outside the grotto first. We also ensure there is no music or tannoys throughout the shopping centre during this period.”
Santa At Mall Wood Green
The Mall Wood Green has launched an online booking system for parents whose children want to visit Santa during quieter periods, without the crowds. Bookings can be made for any visits Monday to Friday.
“This has been created to give those who do struggle with larger crowds and noise the opportunity to meet with Santa in an environment tailored to them,” a spokesperson said.
Tickets are £5 (and £1 from every ticket is donated to Mind charity in Haringey, who provide information, advice and support to people affected by mental health problems).
Christmas Characters At Victorian Arcade
Where? Walsall, Birmingham.
Victorian Arcade in Walsall, Birmingham, has opted to make their grotto inclusive by playing the music at the lowest level throughout their whole grotto experience.
They are choosing to stay away from “loud” walkabout themed Christmas characters.
“All locals are encouraged to visit the grotto even if they don’t wish to pay for a gift,” a spokesperson said. “Families are invited to meet Santa and hand their letter over to him (free of charge).”
We offer a little more time from our team and a little more space to cater for children who need a little more sensitivity." Darren Lamb, director of 4 Kingdoms Adventure Farm
Santa At 4 Kingdoms Adventure Farm
The farm runs a Christmas experience that involves a visit to Santa – plus a trip round thirteen magical scenes – with staff that are trained in coping with children with special educational needs.
There are several dates for special needs schools and charities to visit – when the team can ensure they will have more time and space to cater for children who need a little more sensitivity.
Darren Lamb, director of 4 Kingdoms Adventure Farm told HuffPost UK: “We recognise that sometimes children’s particular needs may mean we need to alter timings or our approach to a particular element of the experience.
“These days ensure we can offer a little more time from our team and a little more space to cater for children who need a little more sensitivity.
“Whilst we offer alternative dates with prolonged timings, we also accept some people want to feel inclusive and visit during our standard operating times, so we have a dedicated member of staff who can fast track through the tour a guest who maybe starts to struggle with their experience for any reason.”
Quiet Santa Sessions At St Enoch Centre
St. Enoch Centre in Glasgow is hosting “quiet sessions” at its Santa’s grotto this year, designed for youngsters with autism or learning disabilities and vulnerabilities.
During the grotto’s quiet sessions, Santa, Rudolph and the elves will be able to spend more time with children, if they require it, to ensure each child has a very special Christmas experience.
General manager at St. Enoch Centre, Anne Ledgerwood said: “This is the first year we are running the quiet sessions at Santa’s grotto and it is hoped that the simple change will allow all children and their families to share an enjoyable Christmas experience creating happy family memories.”
Visits cost just £5.
Rasta Claus At Festive Family Lock In
Event company BoomChikkaBoom, who hold family-friendly raves all year round, ensure that children with SEN at Christmas still get to enjoy the experience.
They do visits for children with “Rasta Claus”, Santa’s best friend, where there is a much more relaxed visit without rushing or having to wait in line. Tickets are just £5. This experience is hosted alongside the other activities.
“We think it’s so important to make fun inclusive for all,” Faye Kenny, who helps organise the event told us.
“It’s important to understand that attending a Christmas grotto, all the elements about the experience can be a little daunting for children. Rest assured we are here to help make the experience magical and enjoyable.”
Know any other venues you think we should include? Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll take a look.