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'Inclusive Hour' pioneer Simon on why he's supporting the Purple Tuesday initiative

We're getting behind Purple Tuesday – the UK's first accessible shopping initiative. Our Marple store's manager Simon Lea led the way by introducing a 'quiet hour' in 2016. Here he writes about why it's such an important issue and his personal experience of talking openly about mental health...

By Simon Lea

November 12, 2018 03:05pm
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I see the launch of Purple Tuesday as a huge step forward towards driving the agenda around inclusivity and making store environments accessible to all. The world is learning that not all disabilities are visible.

Its aim is to provide an inclusive shopping experience for everyone and at Asda we're trialling a dedicated Purple Tuesday 'Inclusive Hour' every week at some of our stores in Kent and Manchester, including the Marple store where I work. We'll be turning off displays, music, tannoy announcements and other noises to help people with autism, dementia and who may otherwise struggle with noise.

It's a really important issue – nearly one in every five people in the UK has a disability or impairment – and it's particularly close to home for me, as I've suffered with mental health issues for the past eight years.

Due to the stigma attached to mental health it wasn't until three years ago I looked for the help I needed.

I remember the day when I sat in front of my doctor and cried, as I could not see a way through the issues I had in my head. After a number of group counselling sessions and a few more doctor’s appointments I was diagnosed with GAD – General Anxiety Disorder.

I've been on medication since 2013 and I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s OK not to be OK.

As I progressed through Asda, it became clear that lots of my colleagues were fighting similar battles, and I found talking openly about my experiences with mental health really helped others open up. I would honestly say that having a mental health condition has made me a better leader, and I feel proud to have supported numerous colleague in the stores I have managed.

Asda Marple colleagues getting behind Purple Tuesday
Asda Marple colleagues getting behind our Inclusive Hour trial

Back in 2016, I was store manager at the Asda Living in Cheetham Hill. One day I spoke to a customer with an autistic child who was struggling to cope in a busy shopping environment, and that gave me the idea for a 'quiet hour'.

We switched off all in-store music and tannoy announcements, the TVs and escalators were turned off and we handed out maps of the store – you can find out more about what we did here.

It had an overwhelmingly positive response, and received lots of media coverage including the BBC, the Guardian and the Manchester Evening News.

When I moved stores to Marple, I started looking at how I could adapt the store to be more dementia friendly and attended our local dementia group to gain some feedback. I’ve also been sharing my experiences with my colleagues and looking at how we can adopt some of my learnings into rolling this out to more stores across the country.

We already do a lot to provide an inclusive shopping experience – we've got things like hearing loops, accessible checkouts, adapted trolleys and braille guns – and more than 1,000 of my colleagues have taken part in autism and dementia awareness training.

We are not reinventing the wheel – just making some small changes that will hopefully make a big difference to so many people.

Five years ago I was finding it difficult to leave my house, never mind be a store manager and talk and write openly about my experiences. I’ve come so far!

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