Autistic children who want to meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas will be able to in a much more welcoming environment for them at Weston-super-Mare’s Grand Pier.
Santa will be opening his traditional grotto at the seafront attraction on Saturday 1 December and will be there every Saturday and Sunday in December from 11am, as well as being there on Friday 21 December and Monday 24 December.
But every Sunday, the grotto will open an hour earlier, at 10am, especially for autistic children and young people.
The Pier has joined up with the North Somerset branch of the National Autistic Society (NAS), who will be inviting visitors to the Pier to make donations in support of their work on various days when the grotto is open.
Lorna Withington, Event Co-ordinator at the Grand Pier, said: “We know that autistic children can sometimes be overwhelmed by the vibrant sights and sounds of the Grand Pier, but we didn’t want them to miss out on the opportunity of meeting Santa.
“We’re delighted to have teamed up with our local branch of the National Autistic Society to be able to offer this chance to autistic children and also raise some vital funds to help the charity with the important support it provides to local families affected by autism.
“First thing on a Sunday morning is generally a quieter time on the Grand Pier anyway, but we will also be reducing the volume of our background music, and ensuring we keep any tannoy announcements to the absolute minimum.”
Visitors to the grotto will be transported along an enchanted path, with moving penguins and polar bears, to the new grotto. Santa’s reindeer and elves will be on hand to make sure visitors don’t get lost!
Admission to Santa’s Grotto is £6 per child, to include a wrapped gift, as well as entry on to the Grand Pier for them and up to two accompanying adults.
For the Sunday morning early-opening for autistic children, tickets should be purchased in the usual way via the Pier’s website. Although the grotto opening times are listed as from 11am, parents should take their children to the Pier at 10am on the Sunday they’ve bought the ticket for.
Ben Nicholas, Chair of the North Somerset Branch of the NAS, said: “I am really pleased to be working in partnership with the Grand Pier, after they got in touch to say they would be supporting NAS through their wonderful 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 say a big thank you to the Grand Pier for all they are doing to help children on the autism spectrum in North Somerset.”
The North Somerset Branch of the NAS provides information and support to individuals and their families and runs a regular out-of-school group which meets in Nailsea.
The branch is always happy to hear from and support other local businesses who might wish to trial an autism/quiet hour.
Autism is a lifelong 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.
The National Autistic Society, including its 100-plus volunteer-run branches, are here to transform lives, change attitudes and build a society that works for autistic people.
For further information, to book tickets, and to find out about events and activities at the Grand Pier all year round, visit www.grandpier.co.uk