Autism-friendly play sessions may be on the cards for Hazelbank

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has been asked to consider a pilot for autism-friendly sessions in two of the borough’s parks.

If approved, the pilot scheme would see quieter one-hour sessions for children with autism at Hazelbank Play Park in Newtownabbey and Steeple Play Park in Antrim.

The local authority has received several requests from residents asking about the possibility of providing sessions in the council’s play parks for children with autism.

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It has been suggested that signage would be put in place requesting all visitors to keep noise levels to a minimum during designated slots and numbers would be limited. In addition, noise from machinery will be reduced during these sessions.

If successful, autism-friendly sessions will be extended to other parks in the borough.

Speaking previously at the launch of Antrim and Newtownabbey’s Disability Action Plan, former Mayor Councillor Jim Montgomery said:”Over the past number of years, we have successfully become an ‘autism friendly’ council, delivered inclusive events, installed pool pods in two of our largest leisure centres, built inclusive play parks, and we now provide Changing Places facilities across a number of our sites.”

In May, a new £30,000 sensory garden funded by the Department for Communities’ Access and Inclusion Programme opened at Hazelbank Park.

It features fully accessible garden, raised beds with plants designed to stimulate the senses, a sandpit area and seating.

A range of sensory equipment is being installed including wind chimes, stepping logs, balance bearms, musical instruments and mirrors.

Cllr Montgomery commented: “The location of the garden was carefully chosen to ensure users could enjoy a tranquil experience in a quieter area within the popular park. The two-metre wide path throughout the garden also ensures that those with mobility issues and wheelchair users can easily move through the site.”

Recently, Mid and East Antrim introduced a ‘quiet hour’ autism-friendly initiative on a trial basis at the multi-sensory and ability play area in People’s Park, Ballymena.

by Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter