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A top tourist attraction is once again offering special ‘quiet hour’ sessions to ensure that children who have sensory difficulties can visit Santa’s Grotto in the run-up to Christmas.

The Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare is creating a magical winter wonderland on the first floor of the main Pavilion building this year.

And the attraction wants to make sure that the seasonal experience is as accessible as possible to everyone, including autistic children and others who may otherwise find a visit to the Pier overwhelming.

The special sessions will take place on three Sundays – December 1, 8 and 22 – between 10am and 11am.

Volume levels and lighting effects will be reduced as much as possible during the quiet hours in order to create an environment more appropriate for those with sensory difficulties.

Every child who visits the Grand Pier Grotto this year will be presented with a book, Santa And His Missing Reindeer, which has been written and illustrated by members of the Grand Pier team.

The book tells the charming tale of how Santa’s sleigh comes to Weston one Christmas Eve only for his famous reindeer to go missing.

Once again, the Pier has joined up with the North Somerset branch of the National Autistic Society, who will have some volunteers on hand during the special quiet hours to meet and greet guests, and also collect donations for the charity, which provides information and support to individuals and their families.

Hollie Otley, Event Manager at the Grand Pier, said: “We introduced special early opening of our Grotto for several dates last year, and received some excellent feedback from visitors.

“Christmas is a magical time of year for families, but some children miss out on some seasonal celebrations because they are often quite noisy, with lots of bright, flashing, lights which we know that some autistic children can find distressing and difficult to be around.

“We are always looking for ways to make the Grand Pier, as an attraction, as accessible as possible to everyone, never more so than at Christmas.”

There will be some other people also eager to meet and greet guests – some of Santa’s elves.

Children will begin their magical experience by following a trail of snowy footprints on the Pier, which will lead them to the first floor of the Pavilion.

Here, the Winter Wonderland experience begins as they step through a Narnia-style wardrobe, through the coats and into a magical forest.

Friendly elves will be on hand to guide them by lamplight across the woodland floor, strewn with bark, winding through the wonderland which will be lined by Christmas trees

At the end of the path, Father Christmas himself will be waiting to meet them in his wonderfully festive Grotto.

Due to structural limitations, the Winter Wonderland walk-through is not accessible for wheelchair users. However, guests in wheelchairs will still have the chance to meet with Santa by accessing the Grotto via the exit route.

Ben Nicholas, Chair of the North Somerset Branch of the National Autistic Society, said: “I was really pleased to hear that the Grand Pier is once again holding special early-opening sessions of its Christmas grotto.

“I hope this will raise awareness of the sensory overload that can sometimes overwhelm people who are on the autism spectrum, and I hope that others will be inspired by the Grand Pier at this time of year to consider those who have sensory difficulties.

“I would like to thank the Grand Pier for all they are doing to support people on the autism spectrum in North Somerset, and for once again making sure that children have the chance to meet Santa in an environment that they are comfortable in.”

The branch is always happy to hear from and support other local businesses who might wish to trial an autism/quiet hour.

The group can be contacted by email at northsomerset@nas.org.uk or Twitter at @N_SAutistic their Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1290628494363357/ or their website www.nasnorthsomerset.webeden.co.uk

Autism is a life-long disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

There are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Without the right support and understanding, autistic people can miss out on education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.

For full details of the Grand Pier’s grotto this year, and to book tickets, visit https://www.grandpier.co.uk/events/santas-grotto-1

 

Mike Davies
Author: Mike Davies