Sunderland AFC wins award for pioneering sensory room

Nathan Shippey with his father Peter in the sensory room at the Stadium of Light
Nathan Shippey with his father Peter in the sensory room at the Stadium of Light
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Sunderland AFC has netted a top award for a pioneering initiative at the Stadium of Light inspired by a young fan.

The Nathan Shippey Sensory Room opened last August to help those supporters who are affected by noise levels in seating areas be able to watch games.

It is named after a young Black Cats' fan who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and was developed after his parents Peter and Kate contacted the club looking to find a way to allow their son to watch football.

Nathan struggled to deal with the crowd noise and his parents found that watching the game from behind glass provided the a better environment for their son.

Using the family's knowledge and expertise of what was required to help fans with sensory issues, the club developed and built a bespoke room, with sensory equipment, the first of its kind in football.

Now the club has picked up the award for Best Marketing Initiative at the Stadium Events and Hospitality Awards 2016.

Sunderland AFC’s supporter liaison officer, Chris Waters, said: "The Sensory Room has been a fantastic addition to the stadium and is allowing supporters to attend games who may have previously been unable to do so."

Speaking at the time of the room's launch, Peter said: "Nathan's first game was in May 2014 when Sunderland played West Bromwich Albion at the Stadium of Light.

"He was desperate to come to a game because he is always watching football on the TV; we felt that it would be a challenge for him but as I said he was desperate to come.

"We gave him ear defenders and tried to prepare him in the right way but unfortunately he still struggled with the atmosphere and the noise levels within the main bowl, so we left after an hour and didn't get to see the end of the game - it was near the end of the 2014-15 season when we survived so I could hear the roars from the crowd when we were walking home."

"Nathan was still keen to come to games so for the new season we tried the Black Cats Bar because he could come inside and get away from the atmosphere if needed. At the first game of the season the same problem occurred so we decided to contact the club.

"After speaking to the club we tried a number of areas inside the stadium, including the Black Cats Bar and the upper Premier Concourse. We found that the best place was in one of the boxes.

From there, experience Peter and Kate came up with the proposal of introducing a sensory room at the ground.

Peter added: "We contacted the club and they helped us to develop the idea, so that there was an appropriate area for people with autism or similar difficulties to come and enjoy the match.”

“I'm really proud that Sunderland have become the first club to do this."

The Shippey family is now campaigning for similar facilities to be developed at other sporting venues.

To find out more, visit www.theshippeycampaign.com.