It’s fair to say that the 17/18 season didn’t get off to the best of starts.
While we sat at the bottom of the table, with no wins, no goals and no points, something very special was happening beneath the stand of Whitehorse Lane. As part of the club’s major off-season investment, improving facilities for fans with disabilities and Selhurst Park accessibility, two sensory rooms were in the process of being developed. Throughout the planning and build process, the club liaised with independent charity The Shippey Foundation, who act as consultants for the Premier League on facilities for supporters with sensory impairments. Peter and Kate Shippey, Founders of The Shippey Campaign said: “The Shippey Campaign were delighted to support Crystal Palace FC in developing two wonderful sensory rooms at Selhurst Park. All of the staff have been extremely helpful and enthusiastic about our idea, and a pleasure to work with."
"The addition of the Sensory Rooms has now opened the door to many supporters with sensory needs, who will now be able to have a fantastic match day experience.” On October 17th, 2017, the sensory rooms became fully available. Two years on from the opening of the sensory rooms, I managed to catch up with Nikki Gibbons, who is the supporting liason officer for the club to find out more about the sensory rooms and how successful they have been.
We currently have 2 sensory rooms at Selhurst Park, for supporters with autism or sensory impairments. One is located beneath the Whitehorse Lane Stand, which is fully accessible, sound proofed and has a number of sensory equipment items as well as a television which shows live coverage of the game. Although this is the smaller of the two rooms, it is big enough to support three supporters along with three personal assistants and has a seat allocation in the stand for those using the room, which allows supporters to pre-book the seats as well as use of the sensory room as required throughout the game.
The second sensory room is an existing TV studio which has been converted for use as a sensory room with a pitch view and a small range of sensory equipment when it is not being used by the TV companies. This room, located in the Holmesdale Road Stand, can accommodate 4-5 supporters along with their Personal Assistants, but unfortunately is not accessible for wheelchair users because of the location.
We are more than happy for supporters to visit us on a non-matchday to view the facilities before choosing to purchase a ticket. Anyone wishing to use either room should pre-book through our Disability Liaison Officer, Pam Groves, however requests on the day would be accommodated subject to availability.
It is extremely important to us as a club that football is accessible to everyone and the addition of these sensory rooms has dramatically improved the match day experience for supporters with sensory needs. They have also attracted new supporters along with their families who initially would not have felt able to attend a live game. We have had several success stories whereby supporters who started off using the sensory room are now full season ticket holders with seats in the stands.
I have also had the privledge of working with some of the children, that use the sensory rooms and have seen how effective they are in helping these children. After weeks of trying to get a fist bump from one of the children that uses the room, I finally had success and he gave me one. It was a great sign of how much more comfortable he is becoming with coming to the games.
While all the noise and displays are going on over in the Holmesdale, there really is something truly special happening over in Whitehorse Lane!