A more relaxed experience at the pool

Recently Upper Hutt City Council has started offering Sensory Hours at H20 Xtream Pool. These sessions offer a more relaxed experience for anyone who prefers a quieter environment, including Autistic and neurodiverse people. We spoke to Mike Ryan, Director of Community Services about these hours.

Where did the idea come from to start these sessions?

We first held a discussion between our team and Life Unlimited (a disability services & support organisation based in Lower Hutt) in 2020 around the possibility of having a time where people could have a more calming and quieter experience within the facility. This led to a sensory hour on Thursday mornings being introduced in October 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions permitted.

In 2022, we had a discussion with Paul Latham from Āhuru Mōwai Trust. The Trust had seen us running a Thursday sensory hour and that we offered a disability price for swimming, which encouraged him to see us as a possible partner. Āhuru Mōwai Trust then formally approached Council to look at the possibility of delivering an evening sensory session and for the Trust to offer a subsidy to support their network. During this time we’d also had other members of the public express interest. From here, we decided to trial this session on a Friday night for 10 weeks from Friday 13 May 2022.

The partnership with Āhuru Mōwai Trust  included them subsidising the Family Pass, which takes the cost from $15 down to $10. This helps remove cost barriers for families to attend.

What adjustments did you have to make to the pool?

A sign outside H2O Xtreme that says

Shhhh... Welcome to our Sensory Hour. We have turned down the noise and lights just for you. No music, no classes or school groups. Please be mindful of others during this time. We hope you enjoy the quieter experience. Every Thursday 9-10am.

For each sensory session we: install signage to remind pool users that it is the sensory session time, dim facility lighting, turn off the facility music, turn off the wave machine and river ride to create a calmer water experience.

Our three hydro slides remain on and are a favourite of guests. They are normally an extra cost but during sensory sessions they are free of charge.

We’re a few weeks in now, how are the sessions going?

They're steady at present with approximately 50-75 people at the sessions. It’s been great to see five families regularly coming in each week, who are travelling from around the Wellington region to use this service.

We’re pleased to see diversity in pool users coming for a quiet experience, play or recreational swimming.

What are some other ways that H20 Xtream removes barriers for disabled people?

  • H20 Xtream has a disability admission fee which includes one person to swim / assist the person with the disability for free.
  • We have an aquatic wheelchair to allow users to enter the water, and disability access to all our pools including the spa, leisure and lane pool.
  • We offer an accessibility guide on our website for pool users so they can familiarise themselves with the facility before visiting: https://www.h2oxtream.com/Facility/Accessibility

What advice could you give to other councils or organisations thinking about starting up similar sessions?

Work with community groups and organisations to partner and co-design these sessions to make sure you understand your community’s needs.

With this support they have assisted us in sharing the sessions with their networks and databases so that we can ensure we’re reaching members of our community who will benefit the most and enjoy the aquatic environment.

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