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The Creative Learning team at Sunderland Empire were delighted to welcome a special visitor this week as Pawsum, the Mascot from the North East Autism Society presented the venue with the Autism Charter as part of their continued commitment to autism awareness.

Sunderland Empire is the first theatre in the North East to sign up to the Autism Charter which is an initiative by Autism Alliance and the Department of Health.  The autism charter has been produced in collaboration with people with autism and is a framework for making venues more autism-friendly. By signing the Charter, venues receive additional free autism awareness training and support for staff.

Hollie Coxon (Sunderland Empire)
Pawsum and
Lisa Taylor (North East Autism Society)
The commitment to the autism charter complements the range of autism friendly projects the Creative Learning team at Sunderland Empire have initiated over recent years. The theatre will host its third relaxed performance on Thursday 17 December (1pm) this year as Aladdin flies in for the pantomime season. Following previous successful relaxed performances, the theatre continues to work in close partnership with the North East Autism Society throughout the year to ensure preparations are in place for visitors.

Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager, North East Autism Society said:  “We have had the opportunity to work with the Sunderland Empire for the previous three years on developing and delivering a relaxed performance for people with autism and their families. It has been fantastic to be part of something which can make a difference to so many people’s lives.   A visit to the theatre can be just a standard experience for many people, but for someone with autism it can be very difficult, confusing and overwhelming. By making a few adjustments at the theatre means that people with autism can experience the show too, many for the first time.”

Kerrie added:  “The Creative Learning team are a real asset to the theatre as they are really passionate about access and inclusion. The venue staff team were a pleasure to train as they were willing to learn and understand more about the condition. The relaxed performance each year really is fantastic and to see so many people accessing such an event is priceless. We look forward to working with Sunderland Empire on many other projects.”

The theatres passion for autism access development spans beyond the programming of the annual Relaxed Performance. Last year the Creative Learning team at Sunderland Empire worked on a special pilot with Widgit who design symbol resources, regularly used by schools and groups for learning and access.

Through discussing and evaluating the resources at the relaxed performance last year, the team found out how vital these resources are in supporting groups with needs such as Autism. Widgit have agreed to extend the support in Sunderland this year, which will provide beneficial resources for groups to access online.

In addition, following a successful summer of autism friendly family learning which brought many arts and cultural venues together through the Get Curious! project, a legacy project will follow - Curious Connections!

Curious Connections! is a group which offers young people with Autism the unique opportunity to enjoy developing participation and performance skills which can be applied to other areas of life. The group will run Mondays (4.15-5.45pm) at Sunderland Empire, and is specifically for young people aged 13-19 with Autism.  Participants will work with the Creative Learning team and No Limits Theatre to develop an exciting piece of theatre called ‘Eclipse’ by writer Simon Armitage which will be performed locally and regionally.

By signing the charter, Sunderland Empire solidifies its commitment to making the venue even more autism-friendly and has signed up to a range of initiatives including staff training and developing an autism-friendly environment including communication and customer service.

Hollie Coxon, Creative Learning Manager, Sunderland Empire said: “We are delighted to sign the autism charter and are committed to continuously developing our creative learning offer through innovative projects and initiatives to support accessible theatre engagement in partnership with the North East Autism Society.”

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