Foyleside in Derry bring back Silent Santa visits for children with Autism

Silent Santa returns to Foyleside. (Photo - Deirdre Heaney, nwpresspics)
Silent Santa returns to Foyleside. (Photo - Deirdre Heaney, nwpresspics)

The ‘Silent Santa’ initiative has returned to Foyleside Shopping Centre, enabling children with particular needs to visit Father Christmas in the comfort of a quiet environment.

On Wednesday evenings from 6pm to 8pm – which is the Centre’s staple Quiet Shopping Night of the week – families with a child who has autism or sensory difficulties can visit Santa with the Centre’s background music turned off and tannoy announcements kept to a minimum.

The Silent Santa initiative was introduced to make the experience of visiting Saint Nick inclusive and accessible to children who may potentially become anxious in the face of excessive noise, queues or crowding during busy periods.

Centre Manager of Foyleside, Fergal Rafferty, said the service has had a positive impact on visiting families in previous years.

“Our Silent Santa initiative proved to be extremely beneficial and well-received last year by parents and children, so we felt it was important to ensure this returned to Foyleside to create an entirely inclusive Centre for those who want to enjoy Santa the same way others can, but in a calm and considered way.

“At Foyleside, we have made a number of significant changes to support those with additional needs in the last 12 months, including our new Sensory Room, which features fibre optics, bubble tubes and customisable sound and light levels to help remove anxiety and distress. We have worked very closely with Autism NI to become more autism friendly and our staff have also been provided with specific training – so we really are making great improvements to make the Centre as accessible as possible.”

Silent Santa will run every Wednesday evening until December 11. Quiet Shopping Nights are every Wednesday 6pm to 8pm.

For more information on Foyleside’s special needs services, visit: www.foyleside.co.uk/centre-info/services/