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October 17, 2017

A press release:

  • Quiet hours, reduced background noise and provision for customers to use private rooms
  • Staff trained on how to better understand and serve autistic customers
  • Information pack aims to give autistic customers and their families a preview of branch life


Nationwide Building Society is trialling autism friendly hours in branches to make the experience as comfortable and convenient as possible.


Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Designated quiet periods, reduced background noise and greater availability of office space are to be offered to create a more welcoming environment for autistic people. In addition, information about what to expect at a branch will also be sent to relevant customers so that they are prepared.


The initiative, which is being piloted in Worcestershire, is supported by the National Autistic Society and will be rolled out across the Society’s entire branch network if successful. The trial follows an extensive training programme for all frontline staff on how to support members with mental capacity needs, such as dementia through its dedicated Specialist Support Service.


In the UK around one in 100 people are on the autistic spectrum, equating to around 700,000 people and affecting some 3 million family members. And with more than 15 million members, the Society recognises many of its customers will be affected by the condition, either personally or through friends or family.


Autistic people can get overloaded by everything around them. It’s like all the senses are firing at once, like there’s no filter, like they’re getting too much information. And that makes the world a terrifying, isolating place. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Small changes can help to reduce the overload.


Taking into account the difficulties experienced by autistic people, a range of approaches will be adopted in participating branches. These include:

  • Publication of quiet times for each branch so there is less footfall and background noise, meaning less need to queue – something that can be an issue for someone on the autism spectrum.
  • Rooms will be made available in case a customer or their child find the experience overwhelming.
  • Noise will be reduced as much as possible for those who experience sensory overload.
  • Reducing fluorescent or harsh lighting as this can hurt the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum.
  • Training for staff to enable them to support autistic members and their families at any time, not just in the dedicated quiet periods.


While the hours are designed to support autistic members and their families, Nationwide hopes they will also be of use to other members who may prefer to conduct their banking needs at a quieter time such as those with head injuries or partial hearing loss.


Mandy Griffin, Director of Membership Propositions at Nationwide Building Society, said: “Autism is very much a hidden disability and often you will not know if someone is autistic. By making a few adjustments in our branches, we can make them a less daunting space for our autistic members and their families. We are also looking to provide more detail online to allow members to plan their visit and know what to expect when visiting a branch, something that is important to many autistic members.”


Mark Lever, Chief Executive at the National Autistic Society, said: “We are delighted that Nationwide Building Society is introducing regular autism friendly hours in its branches. We know that as many as 64% of autistic people avoid going to shops and businesses due to feeling overwhelmed by noise, environment and because staff don’t understand their autism. I am confident that many people will feel relief that Nationwide is offering this crucial initiative.


“In early October, we organised the first UK-wide week of Autism Hours with nearly 5,000 shops and businesses across the country. We hope that more organisations, including other financial services providers, will follow the example set by Nationwide and do their bit to help make sure autistic people and their families have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

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