Peter and Kate Shippey have three children who are passionate football fans. This inspired them to come up with an idea that has meant their children and many others with sensory disablilities can enjoy live matchdays.Level Playing Field have always been pleased to stand for inclusion and fair treatment. Our Weeks of Action Campaign this year is all about celebrating the positives that attending live sporting events can bring to people’s lives. There is increased awareness now of ‘invisible’ disabilities and more and more football clubs are providing facilities at their grounds with this in mind. The below article celebrates the hard work done by Peter and Kate Shippey who have been fundamental in raising awareness of the worldwide need for environments in sporting stadia that allow those with autism to enjoy their matchday as much as anyone else. The Shippey Campaign has already supported many clubs in the creation of these spaces and continue to work towards #OurMatchday being an inclusive one that can be enjoyed by all. Read the Shippeys’ story below.
Peter & Kate Shippey are parents of three children all diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Nathan, Owen & Callum. This can present challenges to daily living that neurotypical people take for granted.
Our eldest son Nathan developed a love of football. As a result, he was desperate to visit our local stadium to watch a ‘live’ match. We explained to him that it would become very busy and very noisy but still he wanted to go.
So, in May 2014, armed with ear defenders, headphones with his favourite music, hats, ear plugs and a bag filled with his favourite comforters, off he went with dad, Peter, to his first match.
It wasn’t successful.
Nathan had been very excited when he’d arrived at the big stadium, but by the time the second half was kicking off we were on our way home. Nathan had been unable to cope with the noise and atmosphere inside the ground due to his autism. His mam, Kate, came back to collect us early from the game and Nathan was devastated.
We as parents thought that was it, he couldn’t cope with being inside a noisy stadium, so that was that.
However that is just where the story begins. Over the following weeks, Nathan continued to watch the football on the television and to our surprise asked if he could to go back again. He was desperate to return to the stadium to watch the team play ‘live’.
We knew he couldn’t cope with the noise so we decided to purchase season tickets in an area of the stadium where there was a big lounge, so that Nathan could go into it if he was struggling with the noise and atmosphere, and then when he had settled down, we could go back out into the main bowl of the stadium.
So first game of the 2014/15 season and we were on our way to the match hopeful that we had solved Nathan’s problems.
We hadn’t. Same problems, same result.
So that night, we, Peter and Kate Shippey, had a ‘eureka’ moment!
We came up with the idea for a sensory viewing room to watch ‘live’ sport from.
Had anyone done this before? No
Had anybody even thought of doing this before? No.
‘Wow!’ we thought. We might be onto something here!
So we asked the club if they provided facilities for people with sensory needs to watch the match.
…so we suggested our idea to the club. Our proposal was to provide a sensory viewing room for those with sensory difficulties to watch a ‘live’ match in.
So we met with the club and discussed Nathan’s situation. That’s when the campaign really started.
We compiled a 3000+ signature petition, targeted around the local special schools in the area, we gained numerous emails of support and used the Equality Act 2010 to encourage the club to listen to us.
We met regularly at the club and after a year of discussions, meetings, plans, signature collecting, emailing, research and decision making, we are very proud to announce that our campaign has had its first success!
The Nathan Shippey Sensory Room (named after our son) at Sunderland AFC has been installed. It is the first sensory room of its kind where people (young and old) can watch a match ‘live’!
The room was opened for the first home game of the 2015/16 season and has been a resounding success.
The room has been used by both adults and children, and also by away fans as well as home fans.
It has various pieces of sensory equipment in there and following the end of the first full season in there, we Peter and Kate Shippey are the only two people who have the experience of being in there all match, every match.
The room has been checked by experts in the field of sensory needs and we now know the balance of what to, and what not to put in there. How much equipment, what equipment works and what sort of capacities you are looking at depending on the size of the room available.
Some clubs we have talked to have already been considering how they could use such a facility on non-matchdays as well, so our concept is gaining momentum all the time.
From being unable to take Nathan to the match, now we can!
And there are many, many, more people in Nathan’s situation.
We wanted the room to benefit as many different people as possible and it certainly has. It has a capacity of 3 fans who require the facility plus a parent or carer each. The room has been full all season and had a waiting list for it towards the end of the season when awareness of the room increased.
As the creators of the idea, the Shippey Campaign has now gained charity status (reg. No. 1166989) and we are now looking to get our concept rolled out nationwide and even into other sports.
We have been heavily involved with each permanent sensory viewing room in clubs and following the development at Sunderland AFC, we are thrilled to say that our contact with Notts County came to fruition with the development of three sensory viewing rooms which opened on 3rd September 2016 and Watford FC opened the first sensory viewing room in the South of England on 10th December 2016. On 18th February 2017, the first sensory room in Scottish football opened at Airdrieonians FC, which we are very proud to be part of. Following on, more recently, we were thrilled to be a huge part of Middlesbrough’s fantastic facility which officially opened on the 19th March and of course the ball keeps rolling in Scotland with a second Scottish club. Our sixth club was Rangers FC after we met and hosted representatives in January 2016, their room, Broxis Den opened its doors on the 1st April 2017, this was followed by Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar – in preparation for the Qatar World Cup 2022, following a presentation that we did at the Beyond Sport event in London in October 2016, we met with three architects who were in the process of discussing stadia in Qatar. We were thrilled to receive an email thanking us for our presentation and sharing the wonderful news of the first room in Qatar.
West Bromwich Albion and Southampton are another two clubs to add to our list of achievements.
The next club to provide outstanding facilities were Arsenal FC who have been an absolute pleasure to support, guide and advise. They opened their two viewing rooms and a wonderful sensory haven on 25th September 2017, at which we were honoured to be in attendance.
Celtic FC were next to invite us to their stadium to discuss creating facilities, after being in contact with the club for a long period of time. Here is their press release:
Followed by the announcement of the opening of Liverpool FC’s room
For the Premier League clubs, we have joined in partnership with BT, The Premier League and Lords Taverners, who have put aside a grant for each club to apply for to create a sensory viewing space in their stadium! We have been in contact with every EFL club, every SPL club and national stadiums in the UK. We are not stopping at Great Britain either! we have had contact from The New Perth Stadium in Australia and had enquiries from Qatar, Hong Kong, France, Germany and we have recently welcomed a USA Ambassador on our team.
We think our idea should be ‘the norm’ in all stadia everywhere.
The focus has always in the past been on physical disability and wheelchair access.
We want people to focus on mental health conditions as well, so often overlooked, but something that needs to change and we hope the Shippey Campaign are the inspiration behind that.