One of the North East’s most popular attractions has been recognised for its positive steps towards enhancing the experience for autistic visitors, staff and volunteers.

Locomotion in Shildon, has been presented with the Silver Autism Acceptance Award by the North East Autism Society (NEAS).

The attraction, which displays highlights from the national collection of railway vehicles, is expected to have more than 200,000 visitors this financial year and is aiming for the gold award by the summer.

As part of the Science Museum Group, one of Locomotion’s core values is ‘Open For All’ and the museum started working with NEAS last autumn to build on work already carried out to enable greater access for neurodivergent visitors.

The museum was already providing sensory toys and ear-defenders, while offering more relaxed ‘early-bird’ sessions for neurodivergent visitors one Saturday a month, as well for special occasions, such as the visit of Flying Scotsman.

A ‘visual story’ had also been established on Locomotion’s website to provide additional guidance for visitors on what to expect.

After receiving expert advice from NEAS, additional steps were taken to reach the silver standard, including:

  • Training for front-of-house colleagues using real-life case studies.
  • An environmental audit being carried out to identify changes to the venue, leading to acoustic screens being ordered to create a quieter area.
  • Improvements to the visual story, including more information about model trains.

In addition, with Durham County Council, the museum has used Government Levelling Up money to provide a new ‘Changing Places’ facility, which comprises an accessible bathroom, a shower, and toilet for visitors who may have additional needs.

Further improvements planned to reach the gold standard include the introduction of the new quiet area, additional training for autism ‘champions’, and a display board to make sensory toys more prominent. NEAS has also surveyed families about their experiences at Locomotion, so lessons can be learned from their feedback.

The award was presented by Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager for NEAS, to Pam Porter, Locomotion’s Operations and Events Manager, during World Autism Acceptance Month.

The Northern Echo: Kerrie Highcock, from the North East Autism Society, presents the award to Pam Porter, from

Kerrie said: “A lot of great work had already been carried out at Locomotion before we got involved, and it’s been a pleasure to work with such a great team in building on those foundations.

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“All the staff we’ve met have been so invested in wanting to make a difference and to translate the training and guidance into practice.”

Pam added: “It’s been fantastic to work with NEAS because we’re always looking to learn and improve on the experience for all our visitors. It was invaluable to get an external perspective on where enhancements could be made, and we look forward to working with NEAS in striving for the gold award.”

It’s an exciting time for Locomotion with an £8m New Hall due to open on May 24, creating Europe’s largest undercover display of historic rail vehicles.