Couple who campaign for autism sensory rooms at football grounds receive MBEs
A football-mad couple who campaigned to make matches more accessible for children with autism have received MBEs.
Peter and Kathryn Shippey’s charity, The Shippey Campaign, introduced the first “sensory rooms” – spaces where people with autism can watch live football in comfort.
The first official sensory room was installed at Sunderland FC, the family’s local side, but more have since been put in by more than 30 clubs worldwide.
There are now sensory rooms at football clubs in Qatar and Australia, as well as several teams in the top-flight American football league, the NFL.
The couple (pictured), whose three children have been diagnosed with autism, were presented with their honours by the Duke of Cambridge.
They said William, a keen Aston Villa fan, was extremely supportive of their charity.
“It was an amazing experience to be recognised and brilliant to meet Prince William,” said Mr Shippey.
“(The award) was completely unexpected, it was out of the blue. It’s just something we do, that we’re so passionate about,” said Mrs Shippey.
“To do something that you’re so driven to do and be awarded with such an honour, it’s just incredible.”
William’s own initiative, Heads Up, encourages dialogue about mental health in sport, and particularly in football.
“It’s a tremendous campaign and the two sort of sit side by side, it’s tremendous what he’s done,” said Mr Shippey.
“Aston Villa have got (a sensory room) in there now and he’s really happy that they’ve done it.”
The Shippeys, who are lifelong Sunderland supporters, said that having three children with autism made attending matches as a family difficult.
Their eldest son Nathan had a particular passion for the sport but struggled to cope with the noise of live games.
“You go to the football and then you think, the next stage is that I’ve got three boys and I want to take them to the match,” said Mr Shippey.
“But with their autism, they couldn’t cope with it – you think, we’ve got a problem here. He (Nathan) was frightened and said he wanted to go home. You couldn’t take him.
“But in that summer of 2014 he was watching the football on the television and he said, ‘Dad, I want to go to the match, I want to go back’. So we had a problem.”
The couple struggled to find a way for Nathan to enjoy watching football comfortably but eventually developed the idea for a “sensory room”.
The rooms contain “sensory calming toys” and “tactile things” to help those with autism to relax.
“There’s a space where they can still see out live to watch the game and if they’re getting a bit stressed they can go into the sensory room. It’s a place to get away from it – to calm down if things are getting too much,” said Mr Shippey.
“It opens a door that maybe wasn’t there in the past.”
The Shippeys said they had visited the sensory room at Arsenal on Monday with their boys.
The three children also attended the investiture ceremony with their grandmothers.
Mrs Shippey added that the rooms are not just for children diagnosed with autism: “They’re for adults too.
“When you think about the amount of adults who have never been to a football match, who might have that passion for the sport – it opens a whole new world for those people too.”
Mr and Mrs Shippey received MBEs on Tuesday for their voluntary service to inclusion in football spectating.
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