Huddersfield Town fan Lucie Overend felt like a VIP when she tested the Terriers’ new Inclusion Room.
Lucie has autism and finds going to matches difficult but now a special space has been created in the Fantastic Media Stand at the John Smith’s Stadium.
People with autism and other learning disabilities can make use of the Inclusion Room so they can access football in a safe and stress-free environment.
Having been diagnosed in 2021, teenager Lucie has struggled to go and watch the team she loves. Her dad Mark is well aware of what a child with autism faces on a daily basis and, after doing his own research, he contacted the club to both give advice and ask what they could do.
Having attended various All Together Town meetings, Mark was able to speak with the right people at the club.
He said: “Lucie was diagnosed with autism and suffers a lot with anxiety and changes to routines. We used to go to games when she was younger, however as she has got older she has found it more difficult.
“She finds it hard to handle the crowd and noise. I did a bit of research into what things were available to help people with autism attend games. I found that a number of clubs had created sensory rooms.
“One of these was at Watford and, after speaking to someone there about it, I then contacted people at Town to ask if we could create something similar.”
Town did just that and Lucie and her family were able to help the club create an inclusion room furnished with bean bags, toys, colourful bubble lights and more.
Mark added: “We went along to see what they were planning to create. I wrote a long passage of information about children with sensory needs and what they need and what a matchday experience is like for a person with autism, and the difficulties they face.
“Unless you have autism yourself you’d never know what those difficulties are. The club found this interesting and hadn’t thought of a lot of things that I and others had suggested.
“We then went to the Derby County game where we were the first people to use the room on a matchday. Lucie absolutely loved it. She watched the game inside the room whilst sat on a bean bag. She could take in a game in the knowledge she was in a safe space and didn’t have to deal with all the stress she normally would.
“She felt like a VIP guest even though she wasn’t but that made it special for her. She still talks about it now and has asked to go back. The problem is that the room only fits a certain number of people and there are only so many matches, so I think we’ll have to wait a while to go back in.”
Mark went on to explain more about the difficulties Lucie faced when at games sat in the stand.
He said: “We went to a game where she found it all too much and started to get upset and angry. People around you look and think she’s just being naughty and needs a telling off. However, that isn’t the case.
“It’s upsetting for me to see her in distress. People may say why take her in the first place but the point I make is everyone deserves to go to watch their team play.”
Mark’s wife Sharon went to the Derby game with Mark and Lucie and although she isn’t into football she also saw the delight on Lucie’s face.
Sharon runs her own online business called Sensory Land which provides toys to children and young adults with autism.
Mark said: “It was Lucie’s idea in lockdown. Being a lover of sensory and fidget toys, she asked if she could buy some stock with her own money and sell them. She created a TikTok account, and we created an Etsy store and she sold out very quickly.
“We moved from Etsy to a proper hosted website, and this is the business my wife now runs. We provided some advice and guidance to the club around this and hope to provide products from our store to them going forward.”
On creating the room, Town’s supporter services lead Robyn Kennerdale said: “Having this space shows that this football club is as open and inclusive to as many people as possible. For me in my role that’s just the best thing, giving someone a matchday experience they thought they’d never get.”
Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Paul Clements and first team keeper Lee Nicholls both have close family members with autism. Both were delighted to see the club create this special room.
Paul said: “This is brilliant and it’s something very close to my heart. I’m very proud of the club for doing this.”
Lee added: “It means so much to me that the club has done this. I am buzzing to be at a club which has created this. There is a bigger picture where it isn’t just for the kids with learning disabilities but their families too and I think lots of families will love this.”
Find out more on the club’s YouTube channel HERE.