Sunderland Empire receives gold award for work welcoming autistic theatre-goers

Sunderland Empire has received the highest accolade for its autism-friendly performances.

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 5:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 8:19 am

The theatre has been presented with a Gold Standard Autism Acceptance Award by the North East Autism Society (NEAS) following an eight-year partnership with the theatre’s Creative Learning team and the society to create performances that are accessible to autistic and neurodivergent visitors.

The partnership has resulted in training sessions in autism awareness, collaborating with productions to create relaxed performances, delivering theatre tours ahead of visits, creating quiet spaces and activities when within the venue, and autism-friendly theatre groups including Curious Connections and Connect Company.

Anthony Hope, Creative Learning Manager at Sunderland Empire, said: “I’m so incredibly thrilled to accept the North East Autism Society’s award after eight years working closely with NEAS. We’ve worked really hard to make formative changes to make our services and productions more inclusive and autism-friendly.

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Sunderland Empire Theatre receive autism acceptance award. From left Theatre Director Marie Nixon, Creative Learning Director Steph Durkin and North East Autism Society Kerrie Highcock with NE Autism Society mascot and Wicked Queen Su Pollard.

"It’s so incredibly important that everyone who visits our theatre feels safe and comfortable and are able to enjoy productions without worry. I’m so excited to continue working with NEAS to further develop our autism resources so everyone in our region and beyond can benefit and fully experience our arts and cultural offering.”

Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager at NEAS said: “It’s fantastic to see local businesses adapting their practices and taking into account the sensory needs and differences of autistic and/or neurodivergent individuals.

"Sunderland Empire theatre has long supported our mission and have made a number of positive changes to improve its customer experience for autistic visitors and their families, such as putting on relaxed performances, appointing an autism champion and creating a visual story for the attraction.”

She added: "While these changes might sound trivial to those of us who are neurotypical, they really can make such a huge difference to the lives of many families across the North East, and the Empire deserves recognition for its efforts and commitment to championing neurodiversity.”

Sunderland Empire Theatre receive autism acceptance award. North East Autism Society mascot and Wicked Queen Su Pollard.

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