To celebrate Autism Acceptance Week, intu Metrocentre and intu Eldon Square, today launch their first ever sensory backpack in partnership with North East Autism Society.

Designed by parents supported by North East Autism Society, items include, ear defenders, egg timers, sunglasses, a variety of visual symbols, fidget toys and autism guides designed by the centres.

The sensory backpack which is available from all four customers desks at intu Metrocentre and from St Andrew’s Way and Fenwick customer service desk at intu Eldon Square is packed full of items to assist autistic children to enjoy their shopping experience.

The bags will be piloted over the next three months before being further developed following customer feedback and potentially being rolled out nationally; an initiative which is part of intu’s ongoing commitment to welcome visitors with autism and their families to every centre.

Clare Cannon, community manager at intu Metrocentre and intu Eldon Square, said:

intu is already well known for the support offered to autistic customers, which includes specially-trained staff and autism-friendly guides. We understand that visiting a shopping centre can be an overwhelming therefore we hope that the sensory backpack will help reduce an increase in anxiety to allow familiars an enjoyable experience at our centres.

Kerrie Highcock, family development manager at North East Autism Society, said:

We’re so excited to be working in partnership with intu Metrocentre & intu Eldon Square. Visiting a shopping centre can be an overwhelming sensory experience for an autistic person, so the contents of the sensory backpack will help reduce the auditory and visual stimuli and hopefully lead to a more relaxed shopping experience. We see this as an ongoing piece of work which will evolve, and we are really keen to work alongside families to gain feedback and add to the backpack wherever appropriate.

Clare Timothy, the parent of Dylan and Scarlett who today tested the bags, said:

We love coming to intu Metrocentre, however it can be difficult during busy times. Now that we can hire the sensory bags this will give us the opportunity to enjoy more family days out at the centre.

sensory backpack

Dylan said:

I think the bags are a really good idea, I’m always forgetting my ear defenders, which can make it difficult for me to enjoy my day. All the items included are fantastic for me and my sister. 

Scarlett added:

Being able to hire the bag is a brilliant idea as we always forget items, this will definitely make a difference to us visiting intu Metrocentre.

sensory backpack launch at intu Metrocentre

The bags will be available from the centres today, limited to one bag per desk. To hire the bag for your visit customers are asked to leave a refundable deposit which will be returned following their visit.

intu also introduced a ‘Quiet Hour’ initiative in 2017 offering families a more relaxed environment with low sounding music, dimmed lights, and useful shopping guides. Quiet Hour runs at intu Metrocentre and intu Eldon Square on the first Tuesday of every month from 10am – 11am and first Saturday from 9am - 10am.