Wrexham AFC will be celebrating their Autism Friendly Status at Saturday’s home game against Yeovil Town at the Racecourse Ground.
The football club were the first in Wales to be awarded Autism Friendly Status, when it was bestowed last year, and also the first business in Wrexham to achieve it.
And DLO Kerry Evans will be marking the anniversary of the achievement with Kerry Roberts, Wrexham branch manager of the National Autistic Society, in attendance at the game.
Furthermore, Year 7 students from Darland School’s special needs unit will be visiting the Racecourse’s quiet zone to watch the match against the Glovers.
Kerry Roberts will also be running the club’s first Autism Friendly training session at the club on Thursday night which, if successful, will be rolled out to all staff at the club.
Kerry Evans said: “The Autism Friendly Status is massive, to have been able to achieve the requirements set to be awarded the Autism Friendly Status at a National League club, proves that every club can do it.
“I was immensely honoured and proud to have been able to get Wrexham AFC Autism Friendly Status and making us the first football club in Wales to be awarded and the first business in Wrexham, it really is quite overwhelming and an amazing achievement.
“We have put so much work into an autistic fan having the best experience possible visiting Wrexham AFC.”
The work undertaken includes introducing a designated route to the quiet zone in the ground, avoiding turnstiles and busy concourses which can be unwelcome experiences for somebody living with autism.
Familiar face stewards Amy and Geraint then welcome supporters to the quiet area – they work the area every match, to ensure repetition. Amy and Geraint operate differently to other stewards in that they sit with the families, rather than stand.
Waitress service is offered to the quiet zone, again avoiding the concourse and queues, while this season the club can also offer sensory bags – including red fidget spinners, stress balls, ear defenders and Macron hats.
A small sensory room has also been set up, located behind the quiet zone and alongside a disabled toilet.
The sensory room – which Premier League clubs such as Manchester City and Arsenal have also introduced – includes easy chairs, a football beanbag, sensory lighting and books and sensory items for play.
Tracey Rush, who uses the area with her son, said: “Anyone who is interested should really come and experience what the ground has to offer for autistic families and children, as we are very privileged to have this facility at the ground.
“I cannot thank Kerry and the fantastic team of stewards that have really made a difference to the experience me and my son have at the football ground since the quiet area has been introduced.
“We are made to feel very safe and extremely welcome. Nothing is too much trouble and they are so friendly and knowledgeable. We never miss a home game and feel part of a family at the ground.
“The quiet room is fantastic and the sensory area really helps children relax.”
The training Kerry Roberts will be running follows on from the fact Wrexham AFC already run dementia training sessions for all club staff and stewards.
The first to receive the training, which is fully recognised by the National Autistic Society, will be the members of club staff who work closest with the quiet zone.
And Kerry Roberts said of the club’s Austism Friendly Status: “It’s amazing to have such an inclusive club in our area. Kerry, the DLO at Wrexham AFC and the club has gone above and beyond to make everyone welcome.
“I am delighted the club has been awarded the Autism Friendly Awarded for the second year running. Their facilities are improving all the time, Kerry is always listening and making changes to the facilities.
“Wrexham AFC is the first club in Wales to have received this award and I would personally like to thank the club and Kerry for their continued support in welcoming families like mine to the club.
“I have seen first-hand what it means to Autistic fans to be able to attend games on a regular basis. They have familiar faces on hand to help, a quiet area of the stand to be able to watch the match from and have a time out space for when they have a sensory overload.
“Not only does this all help our members but it also helps others with similar needs. I am proud of our local club and hope others see how little changes can make a huge difference to some.”
Wrexham AFC also offer quiet walkabout visits three times a season, where families can explore the facilities when the ground is closed.
One of the first visitors to the quiet walkabout session was 11-year-old Aled Jones, whose family were also the first to use the quiet area.
Aled now has a season-ticket in the area and said: “I like having my own seat and knowing the other families that use the area. It feels like home.
“I enjoy the sensory room. I choose a different toy each time to play with. Kings and I meet before the game and try to predict the score. It's good to see the same stewards Amy and Geraint. I look forwards to my hug with Amy and sit and chat about football with Geraint.
“Kerry always comes to our area to see if we are all okay. When it's cold I like to snuggle on a Wrexham blanket. Sometimes I don't like the noise, so I borrow red ear defenders.
“I went in through the turnstile once and it frightened me so we use gate 12 all the time now. I prefer to go into the ground and take my seat before it gets noisy and busy. At the end I like to wait until most people have gone before I leave.
“If I want food Molly comes and takes my order. She is very patient with me. Lawrence, one of the stewards, tells funny jokes. I feel at home at the Racecourse Ground. We are one big happy family in the quiet area.”
To find out more about Autism Friendly Football at Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse Ground, check out our guide – and a video – here.