Sunderland AFC has become one of the first clubs in world football to open a second Sensory Viewing Room within their stadium.
The new facility, located in a converted executive box in the West Stand, will complement the existing Nathan Shippey Sensory Room at the Stadium of Light.
It offers a specially-equipped space for supporters on the autistic spectrum or with sensory impairment conditions, and will seat a total of five supporters plus a parent or PA.
The new Sensory Viewing Room will officially open on Easter Monday (April 2) when the Black Cats take on Sheffield Wednesday at the Stadium of Light.
Guests will include local charitable organisations and individuals who have offered advice and input throughout the process, plus young supporters from the region.
Sunderland AFC chief executive, Martin Bain, said: "We are delighted to be able to offer a second Sensory Room for the use of supporters on the autistic spectrum or with sensory impairment conditions.
"This builds on the work already done in this area and underlines the club's commitment to an accessible matchday experience for all supporters.
"To be one of the first clubs to offer two on-site Sensory Rooms is a point of pride and we will continue to do all we can to push ahead in this area."
The original sensory room, named after Sunderland fan Nathan Shippey, opened in August 2015 and was a world first within sporting stadia, constructed through an invaluable partnership with the Shippey Campaign.
Peter and Kate Shippey pioneered the concept of Sensory Viewing Rooms in sporting stadia, after being inspired by their son, who wanted to watch live football.
Their efforts have been instrumental in driving the provision of Sensory Viewing Rooms within sporting stadia, work resulting in the Stadium of Light’s room being joined by similar facilities at numerous clubs including Arsenal, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Watford.
The new Sensory Room at the Stadium of Light is also supported by the Premier League and BT disability initiative which sees both organisations fund clubs to help increase opportunities for disabled people across England and Wales. As part of this partnership, funding is available towards the provision of equipment for sensory rooms.
Richard Scudamore, Executive Chairman of the Premier League, said: “Sunderland’s first sensory room pioneered change in the accessibility of a match day for all supporters of professional football clubs. In adding a second sensory room, with support from the Premier League and BT disability fund, Sunderland have made another ground-breaking step in ensuring football is available to all.”
The North East Autism Society, who work across the region to support families living with autism, learning difficulties or disabilities, have also lent their support, including specialist advice.
Meanwhile, the development has been further supported by the Lord’s Taverners, while the club is also grateful to local practitioner Darren McCabe for his advice.
North East Autism Society chief executive, John Phillipson, said: “The Society is proud to be associated with Sunderland AFC who are doing incredible work in making their club, and football, more accessible for people with a range of disabilities.
“Just a few short years ago we couldn’t have imagined these huge leaps forward but thanks to organisations like the Shippey Campaign leading the way we can now build on these tried and tested initiatives and see the world open up to more and more people.
“We are also incredibly proud of one of our children, 13-year-old Bradley Black, who will be there for the official opening and can now enjoy watching his favourite game and favourite team outside – or inside.”
Simon Green, head of BT Sport, added: “This is tremendous news for Sunderland and its fans. Initiatives such as the new Sunderland sensory room typify how BT uses sport as an enabler of change. We are proud of the work that our joint disability initiative with the Premier League has helped to deliver over the past 18 months, including a range of primetime short films on BT Sport which showcase the dedication of clubs and participants in this area.”
Any supporter wishing to access either of the sensory rooms for a fixture should contact the Disability Liaison Officer via email at mailto:email@example.com once the fixture is on general sale, which is usually 4 – 6 weeks before the match.