Christmas shopping can be an ordeal at the best of times, but for some autistic people the crowds, music, tannoy announcements and bright lights make it a very uncomfortable experience.

Fortunately, shops and malls are increasingly aware of this and have taken steps to make their venues more accessible.

Eldon Square in Newcastle is the first shopping centre in the North-east to be awarded our Autism Acceptance Gold Award after working with the Society for seven years.

Here Clare Cannon, Community & Events Coordinator, explains how Eldon Square welcomes autistic shoppers.

Here's our round-up of accessible hours at North-east stores and malls.

Eldon Square, Newcastle
  • Quiet hours are every Tuesday (10-11am) and Saturday (9-10am) all year round
  • All staff receive autism awareness training
  • Sensory backpack for hire for three hours (£20 refundable deposit)
  • Autism-friendly visual guide available here
Bridges, Sunderland
  • Quiet hour 11-12pm on Sundays, with no music or rides
Metrocentre, Gateshead
  • Quiet hours on Tuesday 5th December (9-10am) and Saturday 9th December (9-10am)
  • Sensory backpacks available from customer service desks in upper Platinum and lower Green malls
Dalton Park, County Durham
  • Quiet hours every Tuesday, 10am-12pm
Darlington town centre
  • Quieter hour every Sunday, 10.30-11.30am
  • Quiet hour every Wednesday and Saturday, 9-10am. Visual aids here
  • Quieter hour Monday-Thursday 2-3pm
  • Quieter hour 9-10am on Saturday 
  • Autism aware quiet evenings Tuesday 6-8pm

Tips for accessible shopping

NEAS and Eldon Square have put together shopping tips for autistic and neurodivergent people:

  1. Visit during a store or mall's quiet hours when music will be lower, lights will be dimmed, and tannoy announcements will be reduced
  2. Plan ahead using maps and perhaps visual lists to tick off as you go
  3. Wearing a sunflower lanyard helps staff identify who may need additional support.
  4. Depending on your sensory needs, sunglasses and ear defenders can reduce overload
  5. Click-and-collect, available at some stores, is a way to avoid queues. Place your order online and collect in-store.

Find out more from our Festive Resources