Scottish First Division side Airdrieonians has become the first club in the country to have a sensory room at home games, allowing children with conditions such as autism to attend matches in comfort.
The Diamond Sensory Room will be officially launched at Airdrie’s match with Livingston on February 18.
The sensory room is the brainchild of the club’s commercial manager Dougy Allsop and Youth Academy coach Stevie Burr. Stevie has a son with autism and approached Dougy to see if anything could be done and, just a few weeks later, with the help of the Supporters’ Trust and other fans, the room will open.
“The club have worked with the Trust and the stadium owners on several projects to make football in the town more accessible for everyone,” said Allsop. “Sammy’s Shelter, which opened a couple of years ago for wheelchair users is probably the most high profile example of this to date.
“The Diamond Sensory Room will build on our ‘Football for Everyone’ programme, and provide a safe and comfortable place for autistic children and their carers to watch home matches.”
As part of the planning, Stevie and Dougy approached English Premier League club Watford and Sunderland – 2 of only 3 clubs in Britain to have such rooms – for feedback and advice.
The club also sought advice on funding the room from Peter and Kate Shippey from Sunderland. They launched a campaign in their home city to provide a similar facility in the Stadium of Light, before setting up the Shippey Campaign, a charity that aims to encourage all clubs to set up such rooms. Both will be guests of honour at the game and will officially open the room.
“We’re really thrilled that Airdrie are going to be the first club in Scotland to have a sensory room,” said Kate. “We really appreciate them involving us in this, they’re amazing people in an amazing club and we can't wait to meet everyone.”
Peter added: “It’s a massive honour to open the room, we never expected that. It’s very humbling. Let's get Airdrie on the map, with being the first club in Scotland to do this. Great work everyone!”
While some equipment has already been bought, the club is aiming to raise £10,000 to install specialised accessories in the room. The trust is funding some of this money, while the project team are exploring grants, sponsorship and donations to raise money.
To this end, celebrities Ricky Gervais and Mark Hammill have signed Airdrie strips to help raise cash, and are currently on eBay. Tom Hanks, William Shatner and Eric Idle are some of the others who have strips on the way.
The Trust is also hosting 3 music concerts in the town later in the year, of which some proceeds will go towards the room.
Dougy added: “We are delighted to be the first team in Scotland to open such a facility, and hope that what we have achieved can be replicated at clubs big and small throughout the country. BT have set up funding for English Premiership teams, but it’s something that can and should be replicated across the board.”
Majella Hope, senior group worker for sports at the Hope for Autism Group in Airdrie, added: “The setting up of The Diamond Sensory room will enable local families to enjoy some quality time together in an environment that supports young people with autism.
"Football matches for young people with autism can be a daunting experience - noise levels, crowds and the unpredictability of the game all have the potential to cause sensory overload.
"Being able to view the game from an autism friendly box would ensure young people have the opportunity to attend games in a more comfortable environment and allow them to experience the joy of football something many families have not experienced together before.
"This is a fantastic projects will really does encompass the idea of 'Football for everyone'.”