Chelmsford Museum is officially one of the most autism-friendly venues in the country.
On Wednesday 7 June, Chelmsford Museum was awarded the prestigious National Autism Friendly Award by the National Autistic Society (NAS). It is one of the first museums in the country to have gained this gold standard for the welcome given to people who are on the autism spectrum and their families.
The Mayor of Chelmsford, Councillor Duncan Lumley, received the award on behalf of the Museum.
The award was presented following a year-long project to make the Museum more accessible for people with autism. In 2016, it was decided that more needed to be done to attract and cater for visitors with invisible conditions. The project focused on autism because it affects a lot of people - 1 in 100 - and because many of the changes required are also beneficial for visitors with other needs.
At the start of the project, the Museum consulted with people who had experience of autism. Their feedback was used to train members of the Museum team, add specially-designed pre-visit downloads to the website and develop new resources for visitors. The Museum is planning a refurbishment, subject to approval by the Heritage Lottery Fund in June, and the needs of people with autism will be considered as part of this.
Daniel Cadey, Autism Access Development Manager at the National Autistic Society, said, "Even though more than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, many autistic people and their families still struggle to access community spaces, leisure facilities and shops.
"The National Autistic Society helps organisations such as Chelmsford Museum to achieve our Autism Friendly Award. We know that it's often the smallest changes that make the biggest difference - as the museum has clearly demonstrated - by making staff are aware of and understand hidden conditions like autism, and by providing online information which enables autistic people to pre-plan their visit to minimise anxiety.
"We hope that many more cultural spaces will be inspired by Chelmsford Museum's fantastic example and do their bit to help ensure people on the autism spectrum and their families have the same opportunities as everyone else."
Councillor Julia Jeapes, Cabinet Member for Leisure, said, "This prestigious recognition is big news for the Museum. Having seen the thought and hard work that our staff and volunteers have put into the autism access project over the past year, I am enormously proud that we are one of the first museums in the country to be accredited. It is an important step in our work to make Chelmsford's cultural heritage accessible for all."
The project was led by a Museum volunteer, Jo Gillam, who on Thursday 8 June also won the SHARE Museums East Volunteer of the Year Award for her work on it. Jo said, "Receiving the NAS Award is a fantastic validation of the Museum team's efforts. We hope that, as word spreads, more people affected by autism will come to Chelmsford Museum and have an enjoyable experience. Receiving this award is wonderful for us, but more importantly, it tells people that they can come here and find an autism-friendly environment."
Councillor Stephanie Scott, Chelmsford City Council's Champion for Disabled Children and Adults, is looking forward to improving accessibility even further. "Places and events which provide support for people with autism and their families are enormously valued and our move towards greater accessibility at Chelmsford Museum has been very positively received. We are now working to extend the autism access project to other cultural venues in the city and are already arranging relaxed sessions at Chelmsford City Theatres, along with future events at the Museum."
On 2 April, the Museum held its first, very successful, autism-friendly event to mark World Autism Awareness Day. It plans to hold more events and to schedule 'relaxed' time slots as well. The Museum is now working with Chelmsford Theatres to extend the project to more cultural venues in the city.
Tuesday 13 June 2017