Countdown tones down supermarkets
Two Whanganui supermarkets may introduce a “quiet hour” for people with autism and sensory issues. Countdown Marton began a weekly quiet hour in April and, on the back of a huge positive response, other Countdown stores are considering doing the same.
The quiet hour idea came from staff member Lara Hogg, whose son Hunter is severely autistic. Kirsten Dinnan, who managed the Marton store at the time, backed it and got approval from Countdown to go ahead. They worked closely with Autism New Zealand to implement the concept.
The first sensory hour at Countdown Marton took place on April 4 during Autism Awareness Week.
Dinnan is now the manager of Countdown Wanganui in Trafalgar Square and says a quiet hour is on the cards for that store and Countdown Victoria Ave.
“I’m very keen to get
Whanganui,” she said.
“Trafalgar Square and Victoria Avenue are looking to do it.
“I’m in a new store so I’ve been finding my feet and the Victoria Avenue store is finishing a major refurbishment but hopefully next year.”
The quiet hour initiative won a Geneva Healthcare Award in September.
“We were recognised at the Geneva Spring Ball [for people with disabilities] and won the main award,” Dinnan said.
“That was huge. It was an amazing achievement.”
Most people with autism have a sensory processing issue and the simple act of shopping can often cause physical pain.
“We flick off every second light in the shop, we turn off the lights in all our chillers and freezer units, which makes the fans lighter,” Dinnan told the Chronicle in April.
The PA system and music is switched off and there are no staff working stock or rattling cages or trolleys.
“We’ve also gone to our local $2 shop and bought some sensory-friendly toys for the kids.”
When the Chronicle visited Countdown Marton in April, we met the Brown family.
Annette Brown, whose son Nathanael is on the spectrum, said her whole family benefited from doing their shopping during the quiet hour.
“Three of us have Irlen Syndrome [a visual disorder that affects the brain’s ability to process visual information] so it’s good for all of us,” she said.
“Because the lights are not so bright, it’s a lot calmer.”
Autism New Zealand posted about the quiet hour on Facebook, attracting hundreds of comments from people who wished they had a similar initiative in their community.
Countdown spokeswoman Kate Porter said the company was “immensely proud of the Countdown Marton team for making such as difference to their customers” and was considering implementing it in other areas.
Following the Chronicle story in April, Dinnan received “amazing feedback”.
“I got calls from people all over the country. Some of them didn’t even know anyone with autism. So many people thought it was amazing to see.”
Current Marton store manager Lisa Brown is continuing the quiet hour every Wednesday afternoon and Countdown’s Three Kings store in Auckland has also introduced a quiet hour.
Enjoying the calm in Countdown Marton are Lara, Hunter and Rhys Hogg, with then-manager Kirsten Dinnan (second from left).
Rhys Hogg takes son Hunter shopping during the quiet hour.