Designed to help customers who currently struggle with music and the other noise associated with supermarket shopping, shoppers will see dimmed lights and no tannoy announcements during the 60 minute period, while the movement of trolleys and baskets will be kept to a minimum. Staff will also ensure that there is no music playing in the store, and checkout beeps and other electrical noises will be turned down.
Tom Purser, head of campaigns and public engagement at the National Autistic Society, which worked with Morrisons to create the scheme, said: “Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK. This means they see, hear and feel the world differently to other people, often in a more intense way, which can make shopping a real struggle.
“At the National Autistic Society we know that even small changes can make a big difference to the lives of autistic people and their families. Shops can help by lowering lighting and noise levels and giving staff training about autism.”
He added: “Morrisons’ Quieter Hour is a step in the right direction for autistic people and their families, making shopping more autism-friendly.”
Angela Gray, Morrisons’s community champion at the company’s Woking branch, which was one of the three stores involved in a trial of the scheme earlier this year, said: “I was involved in the initial trial as my son is autistic and we found that these changes made a real difference. The trial showed there is a need for a quieter shopping experience for some customers.”
The changes will take place every Saturday in all 493 of Morrisons’s stores across the UK from 9am to 10am. The company said it had polled customers and found that one in five people had a family member or friend who could benefit from the scheme.
The company said it would also work to improve awareness amongst colleagues of the issues autistic customers face in store and would also place a poster at shop entrances to alert other customers to the “quieter hour”.
Other shops have previously introduced quiet hours. Last year, Tesco in Alloa switched off music, the public address system and other electronic systems including display televisions between 6pm and 7pm on Wednesdays. Meanwhile, the Thistles Centre in Stirling said earlier this year that it would hold regular quiet hour events once a month ollowing a successful trial last October.
Some cinemas including the Cameo in Edinburgh offer autism-friendly screenings, while the Edinburgh Fringe offers the chance to borrow sensory backpacks containing a fidget toy, earplugs and a list of relaxed performances for people with autism.