Think about your favourite hobby. It's lovely isn't it when the time comes to enjoy it. You have a sense of excitement, maybe relaxation that it's time to kick back and smile for a while.
Well, me and my husband, Peter Shippey thoroughly enjoyed football. Going to the match was great, it was a time to cheer on your team, let the stresses of the week out with a good old chant or, admittedly, a yell, every now and then.
When our eldest child developed a love of football, we knew it was going to be a challenge, not only to him, but to us as parents. Why? He, along with his two brothers have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
We knew that it was inevitable that he was going to want to go to a match. And so he did. After looking on in awe as we passed the stadium numerous times in the car, the announcement came.
"I want to go to the stadium to see the football match" he announced.
We set off explaining the experience of a match day, including the things that would bother him most: the crowds and the noise.
Equipping him with ear defenders, earphones with his favourite music and snug hats, off he went.
I received the call just after kick off. I had to go and get him, he couldn't stand it any longer...not the quality of the football I must add, but the environment.
Pulling back into our drive before the first half had finished had resulted in a devastated little boy. He stood at he TV and watched a different team play.
The following week, he wanted to go again. We knew this was going to be a challenge.
Having tried him a few times, in different areas, all of which were unsuccessful, we contacted Sunderland AFC.
It was September 2014. We emailed the Disability Liaison Officer, with our idea and details of a room that was required for those who suffered from sensory difficulties. She passed our email to the Supporter Liaison Officer and we subsequently received an email back saying they were interested in our proposal and they would speak to management about it.
And here began our hard work. We started a targeted petition (it was sent to special schools and colleges in the area) we gathered 3,000 signatures, we received many emails of support, which we sent on to the football club, we researched the set up and design that the room should follow, we asked for advice from specialists to make sure our designs were suitable. We met with management of SAFC multiple times to discuss our proposal, and after emails, meetings and hours upon hours of research, and almost a year of persuasion, we got the nod that we had been waiting for.
The Nathan Shippey Sensory Room opened on 15th August 2015, almost a year after our first email.
The room is a wonderful haven of tranquility. It has a window with a view which is second to none. It sports a bubble tube, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and a TV showing the live game.
The room isn't soundproofed, but because there is no door to the main bowl, the sound from outside is like a turned down TV. Also, it's wonderful as the users can see the crowd, but can't feel them around them. They feel like they are part of it. It's wonderful.
We have had wonderful feedback from the parents who have visited the room, which holds three people who require the facility plus one parent/carer each. We have welcomed children, adults and even a couple of away fans! Some parents have found the experience rather emotional, saying that it was a dream come true, taking their child to a football match. That's what it's all about!
If you are a football loving family, can you remember taking your child along to their first few matches, can you remember the feeling? Now, take that opportunity away.
It doesn't matter how much you all love it, there's no way you can take them if they have these difficulties.
We set up The Shippey Campaign to encourage inclusion in sporting stadia for those with sensory difficulties. This is to ask stadia to make reasonable adjustments or adaptions, enabling families to enjoy a hobby that so many take for granted.
When The Shippey Campaign began, it wasn't long before we received a call from Joyce Cook OBE, Managing Director at Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) and chair at Level Playing Field. We were invited to the CAFE conference 29-31st October 2015 at Stade de France in Paris. We presented to around 200 delegates from 27 different countries about our concept, which was very well received.
We were invited to speak to representatives from Scottish rugby who also wanted to provide these facilities in a very popular, extremely busy stadium.
We have now welcomed around 15 representatives who have visited the room, from clubs throughout the league. We were invited to speak to four Premier League clubs and discuss our concept further at their stadium, giving advice on suitable spaces, these included Manchester United and Manchester City In the future, our campaign is also taking us to London, where we will meet with London clubs, hosted by Tottenham Hotspur.
The North East Autism Society have met with us, and invited us to visit some fabulous facilities that they provide in Newton Aycliffe. We are working alongside them in encouraging sport stadia to sign up to the Autism Alliance UK charter, which asks businesses to provide reasonable adjustments for those with autism.
What next for The Shippey Campaign? There are no limits. If parents need to to help to make life better, we are here to help. We will continue to speak to arenas' and stadia in a bid to make life for those with sensory difficulties such as noise and crowds and we won't stop until we have succeeded.
We are thrilled that our campaign has taken off and we thank our growing number of supporters. As parents of children on the spectrum, we understand that life can be incredibly tough and it has got to change. Every parent and child are entitled to enjoy life to the full, and our aim is to try and make that happen in any sporting environment for hundreds of thousands of families.
Please do support our campaign! Along with our website, you can also find us on Facebook at Shippey Campaign and on twitter @shippeycampaign we are active on LinkedIn and Instagram too, so feel free to link up!