In October 2018, Clonakilty, through the partnership with AsIAm and SuperValu alongside local retailers Eugene and Catriona Scally of Scally’s SuperValu, became Ireland’s first ever Autism Friendly Town. Their journey to becoming Autism-Friendly saw businesses, organisations and community groups throughout Clonakilty undergo training and organisational changes to receive accreditation. This initiative and accreditation was a first for anywhere in Ireland and the last year has been an incredible success for the whole Clonakilty community. The aim of this SuperValu and AsIAm initiative is to create a greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism so that our communities become more accessible and enjoyable places for autistic people to live in.
Clonakilty’s journey to becoming Autism Friendly began in 2015 when Scally’s SuperValu became the first retailer in Ireland to implement changes in-store ensuring members of the Autism Community could enjoy a better shopping experience. Since then the entire community has got behind the initiative and Eugene Scally of Scally’s SuperValu, Clonakilty said “We are only one year into this initiative and already the awareness of autism in Clonakilty has increased so much and the positive impact on the community is clear. The feedback we have received not just in our store but across all organisations and businesses throughout the community from both locals and visitors has been overwhelmingly positive. The work the committee has done during this journey has created a conversation around autism in the town and made Clonakilty a better place for autistic people and their families to live, work and visit. Not only are locals telling us about how much more inclusive and accessible Clonakilty is but tourists with autism have shared how much they have enjoyed visiting a town that accommodates their needs.”
One of the most popular additions to Clonakilty during this journey has been the sensory garden. Located on the grounds of the West Cork Model Railway the sensory garden was developed to create an environment within the community that would enrich the lives of children and adults living with Autism by providing opportunities to play and explore in a safe and secure space all while enjoying a calming sensory experience. The garden features elements that appeal to all five senses using a range of materials and plants. Exploration in nature improves physical, sensory and emotional health and supports overall well-being and parents have commented that their children have found the garden captivating and engaging, asking to return again and again.
To celebrate the anniversary Alan Gardner star of the Channel 4 programme, The Autistic Gardener visited Clonakilty to see Ireland’s first Autism Friendly town and share how autism has made him one of the world’s leading landscape designers and how autistic people can focus on their strengths to find careers they enjoy. He said “I am delighted to be in Clonakilty to celebrate the first anniversary of the community becoming Autism Friendly. It is clear to see it’s an initiative the whole community had got behind and a great example of how when understanding of autism increases the positive impact it can have for autistic people in all areas of their lives from shopping to employment.”
A key theme of the celebrations this week in Clonakilty is employment and autism. The community are turning their focus on how they can support the autism community find work experience and employment that works to their strengths.
SuperValu Marketing Director, Ray Kelly said, “Supporting Clonakilty on their journey to become Autism Friendly was a proud moment for SuperValu last year. It is our ambition at SuperValu to build more inclusive communities across Ireland and Clonakilty has proved a massive success. The work the Clonakilty community did to receive the accreditation and in the year since is truly impressive and we look forward to continuing our support of Clonakilty and the other 11 towns that have just begun their journey to become accredited Autism Friendly Towns
SuperValu is committed to raising understanding and awareness of autism among its customers and staff. With over 50,000 families in Ireland living with autism, those affected face barriers to inclusion because of the attitudes of people who may not have first-hand experience of autism.