Little did I know, when I woke this morning, that supermarkets would feature so heavily in my day – for both good and not so good reasons!
I was really interested to hear that Morrison’s supermarkets are introducing a ‘Quieter Hour’ in all its stores nationwide to help the parents of autistic children and others who appreciate a quieter shopping experience. I know, from first-hand experience, that many autistic children can find supermarket shopping an anxious experience. Similarly, many adults suffer from conditions where over stimulus and crowds of people can be extremely worrying.
Morrisons have been working closely with The National Autistic Society and it’s ‘Quieter Hour’ was trialled in three of its stores earlier this year. this was after a survey of Morrison’s customers found that one in five had a friend or family member with autism, and that many liked the idea of being able to shop in more comfort at 9-10am on a Saturday.
So, between 9 am and 10 pm on Saturdays, staff will put up signs around the stores to show customers it is 'QUIETER HOUR'. During this period there will be no tannoy announcements, and no music or radio playing. Also, at the checkout, they will even be turning down the volume of the beeps from scanning equipment. Lights will be also be dimmed, to reduce any sensory stimulus. Staff also aim to reduce the movement and noise of trolleys and baskets in and around the store.
One mum I spoke to this week really welcomed this move. Helen, mum to Jacob aged 6 – who is on the Autistic Spectrum, said this “It can be a bit of a nightmare going shopping with Jacob. I try to avoid it if I can be honest. I try to buy most of our stuff online now but I do like to choose our fresh veg and fruit myself. I work, so it’s not always easy to go to the store during the week. Jacob hates shopping in supermarkets, he finds it quite overwhelming – and we’ve had some major meltdowns in the past, which have been upsetting and exhausting for all of us. I’m really pleased to hear about this – but it will be interesting to see just how it’s going to work and whether other customers will join in.”
In my parent’s group on social media, this move was greeted with enthusiasm. With one comment, from Georgia, being “It is a good idea. I feel that there are lots of inconsiderate or oblivious (delete as appropriate) people that probably won’t take any notice what so ever.”
So, I posted about Morrisons on Facebook this morning – then had to drop off my nephew at Gatwick Airport. On my way back from Gatwick I got stuck in a traffic jam (a caravan had gone onto its side over three lanes on the A27), and after a twenty-minute delay, I really needed the loo. I took the nearest slip road and went to a supermarket in Hove.
I walked in behind a woman who was pushing a sleeping toddler in a large buggy and having a loud conversation on the phone. As she went into the entrance she stopped the buggy, blocking the door - and went back to look at the flowers. There was an older man in front of me - with a walking stick. He was very slow and was having trouble getting past the buggy. I looked back over my shoulder at her and said "Excuse me" - but she was still looking at the flowers and talking animatedly into her phone about meeting a friend.
I walked forward and moved the buggy slightly to one side, giving the old man a bit more space and letting him through safely. As he thanked me, the woman came rushing up to the buggy saying "What the hell are you doing!!!" - really loud and aggressively. I tried to explain that the buggy had been in the way of the older gentleman, but she didn't even look at me and just walked off, swearing loudly into her phone. There you go - inconsiderate and oblivious - all in one nasty package.
If considerate and inclusive moves like the ‘Quieter Hour’ at Morrisons is going to work – then we all need to be more considerate, empathetic and aware of people other than ourselves. People who may have disabilities we can clearly see, and many others who have disabilities that are largely invisible to us.
But first, we need to look.
It shouldn’t be a huge ask – but time will tell. I for one think this is an inspirational and commendable move in the right direction.