People in Jersey and Guernsey living with autism will now be able to shop during a weekly ‘quiet hour’ at Grand Marché stores following the success of a trial.

Autism Jersey and Autism Guernsey invited The Channel Islands Co-operative Society to consider making their shops a friendlier environment to those with autism.

In Jersey, Grand Marché in St Helier and St Peter took up the offer, while the Guernsey Grand Marché stores in St Martin and St Sampson did likewise.

Those stores will now go ‘quiet’ each Monday between 3pm and 4pm meaning they will dim the lights, turn off music, avoid tannoy announcements, and the bleeps of tills will be turned to the lowest setting. In addition, a number of staff who have undergone autism awareness training will be available to help improve the shopping experience for those on the autism spectrum.

For mum of two Rebecca Martin, the trial was the first time that she was able to visit the St Helier store. Both Rebecca and her son have autism, and she said the visit was ‘like heaven’. They were able to shop without feeling anxious, without Rebecca forgetting what she had come in for, and without her son having difficulties.

Autism Jersey chief operations officer Paul Sullivan said: “We were delighted to work with the Co-op in October and we welcome the move to make this a regular feature. It just goes to show how some small changes can make a big difference to people with autism. An awareness and understanding of autism goes a long way to helping the people that we support on a daily basis. I hope other retailers will learn from the Co-op’s fine example of responding to the needs and wishes of customers.”

Autism Guernsey services manager Julia Watts said: “People with autism often report feeling anxious and stressed following a trip to the supermarket. The feedback we received from shoppers during the trial ‘quiet hour’ was that it gave them a completely different and more positive shopping experience. On behalf of Autism Guernsey I’d like to congratulate the Co-op staff for their hard work to achieve the necessary changes and make ‘quiet hour’ a permanent fixture. The National Autistic Society believes that one in 10 people are on the autistic spectrum, so being able to shop without distractions makes a huge difference to their calmness levels and confidence.”

Colin Macleod, chief executive officer of The Channel Islands Co-operative Society said: “The Co-op is at the heart of our community and part of this involves us being aware and mindful of our customers’ diverse needs. When we were approached by Autism Jersey we thought that ‘quiet hour’ sounded like a fantastic initiative. If you consider the hustle and bustle of a busy retail store, you can appreciate how this could potentially be overwhelming to some people.”

“Having seen the significant benefits of a lower key shopping experience to those with autism, it makes perfect sense to make this a weekly offering at Grand Marché stores. Staff have been very receptive to the ‘quiet hour’ idea and a number of colleagues have volunteered to undertake training so they can provide an extra level of support to customers and members.”

“We have invested heavily to ensure our stores offer mobility scooters, on shelf magnifiers and hearing loops. In 2017 we also bought specialist trollies to be used by children with additional needs. This creates a shopping experience that is welcoming for all of our members and customers.”