Wasps are the first top-tier rugby club to launch a pitch-facing sensory room for people with disabilities.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation, there is now a facility that will allow many families to access Wasps matches in a safe and accessible space. The Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation, working with Alpha Solutions, provided the funding to allow the specialist equipment to be purchased. The club’s community team have converted two hospitality boxes at the Ricoh Arena into a quiet viewing room and a separate sensory space, where adults and children with autism and other disabilities can watch the action whilst being shielded from loud noise and bright lights.
The sensory room is split into two areas. There is a viewing room where people can sit on bean bags, chairs or high stools to watch the action, and if feeling overwhelmed, there is an adjacent space with calming sensory equipment such as bubble tubes and fibre optic lights.
The idea came about after Wasps fan Neil Boon was inspired by the efforts of the Shippey Campaign, which is a project encouraging the use of viewing sensory rooms within stadiums.
He approached the club after his seven-year-old twins Samuel and Thomas, who both have autism, couldn’t stay for a full rugby match inside the stadium due to the loud noise and lights.
Neil said: “Families that have children with autism often feel isolated because they feel like they can’t attend matches, but all of that can now change.
“One of the great features about this sensory room is that there are two rows of outdoor seating that allows children to begin transitioning from the room to sitting outside.
“My son Samuel really struggles with noise but even he has been able to come outside for a few minutes to sample the atmosphere before going back into the sensory room.
“We tried the room out at the first game of the season and it was noticeable how much calmer the boys were and how much more they enjoyed and engaged with the experience of being at a rugby match – they were more concerned with what was happening on the pitch rather than everything else around them.
“As parents it was also noticeable how much calmer we were – we weren’t constantly on tenterhooks wondering when the boys were going to start struggling - we could just sit back and enjoy the game ourselves.
“I’d urge any parent who has a child with autism or a similar disability to give the room a try because its an amazing environment and they’ll get a lot out of it.”
Up to four people and their parents or carers can now watch Wasps home matches for free during the 2018/19 season.
The viewing space and sensory room was funded by Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation and was developed in partnership with the Shippey Campaign. Baginton Fields’ teacher Sean Noone also played a key role in contributing to the design of the room and is on hand to assist at games.
Jordan Young, community development officer at Wasps, has been overseeing the creation of the sensory room.
He said: “An inclusive approach is at the heart of all of our community engagement in schools and local rugby clubs, and we’re thrilled to take this one step further on match days by opening up a dedicated space for people with disabilities to watch rugby.
“We are massively grateful to the stadium management in making this a reality, and Justine Hewitt - Head of Operations at the Ricoh Arena, who has helped drive this exciting project forward.
“We have trialled the concept at home games this season which has worked well, and we look forward to making it available for the rest of the season and beyond.”
The move has also been welcomed by Kate and Pete Shippey, who innovated the concept of sensory viewing Rooms in sporting stadia in 2014 after being inspired by their three sons who have autism.
Pete commented: “Wasps understood that these facilities were needed and we were delighted to support them in their development. They are the 15th club that we have advised and the first in rugby to provide pitch-facing sensory viewing room facilities.”
Level Playing Field, a charity promoting good access for all fans at sporting events, is hoping more professional sport clubs will follow suit in improving match day inclusion.
Owain Davies, Chief Executive for Level Playing Field, added: “To see one of England's top rugby teams start this provision in the sport is a big positive and will only draw more disabled fans to the stadium who had previously not had the option to do so.
“It's important to recognise that providing a provision for disabled fans has such a positive impact.
“Recently we have seen a number of football clubs implement this provision off the back of the successful Shippey Campaign and their commitment to supporting their fans.
“Wasps are responding to their fans and their community by enhancing the match day experience for their existing fans whilst providing a new opportunity for others. It is a great step forward in access and inclusion.”
Those looking to book a space in the sensory room for one of Wasps’ upcoming home matches should email firstname.lastname@example.org