THIS week a group of young autistic people and their families road-tested the ice rink at Life Science Centre as part of the attraction's ongoing drive to become one of the most inclusive in the UK.

This is the latest initiative in a ground-breaking partnership between the Newcastle attraction and the North East Autism Society (NEAS).  The partnership began in 2018 and has received widespread recognition and been hailed as an example of best practice in the UK. 

Life’s ‘visual story’ has already been adapted to reflect the feedback from the ice session. The visual story is a tool used to help anyone who wants to prepare in advance for a visit to a tourist attraction.  Of particular benefit to the autistic community, Life’s version offers a detailed step-by-step guide to the centre and its exhibits in words and pictures. After extensive research, the Life team pioneered the inclusion of sensory information, so that loud or unexpected sounds, lighting and visual stimulants may also be signalled.  

As well as the visual story, Life has developed two major new exhibitions at the centre - Space Zone and Making Studios - with input from the NEAS group.  Several other initiatives include specialist staff training and the launch of sensory-friendly Sundays - regular weekend sessions with dedicated quiet hours and relaxed performances for people with autism and other sensory needs.  Life has also introduced softer flooring and ear defenders to reduce noise.

Earlier this year the science centre became the first cultural venue to be awarded our Gold Autism Acceptance Award in recognition of the centre’s commitment to improving the visitor experience for autistic people. In the past year, Life and NEAS have shared their experiences at global online conferences in the U.K, United States and Europe.

Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager at NEAS, said: “Our partnership with Life has gone from strength to strength and together we’ve achieved a lot of regional ‘firsts’ in terms of inclusivity. The attraction is a leader in the field of autism-awareness, and by testing the rink, we have taken another step forward in our ongoing commitment to this.”

The suggestions Life has built into the visual story include more information on the penguin supports and wristbands, an alert about noise from the fan and, as the rink can get very popular, a note about the possibility of noisy queues.

David Jones, Community Liaison Manager at Life Science Centre, said: “It was great to welcome members from NEAS onto the rink this week. The Life team has developed a great relationship with the staff, young people and families at the charity which means the channels of communication are fully open. Their feedback is invaluable in our mission to make science inclusive for all.”  

The Life open-air skating rink is situated in Times Square adjacent to the main entrance to the Life Science Centre.  It is open Monday – Sunday until 9 January 2022 with the first skate: 9:45am and the last skate 7:45pm.

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