News & Events

Tesco go the Extra mile to Support Local Autism Friendship Group

Children checkout local store to put social skills into practice.

Showcasing the importance of community partnerships in delivering services for children with Autism, leading service-provider Autism Initiatives teamed up with Tesco to bring its Friendship Group out into the community.

Currently in week five of a ten week course, participants were invited to put their conversational skills into practice with a fun visit to Tesco’s Community Space, located at the Newtownbreda store. Friendship Group is a unique 10-week course designed specifically for children with an autism spectrum condition or related diagnosis. Running weekly, children are supported in the development of key skills such as identifying emotions in others, reading body language and developing conversations.

Tesco's Gillian Hutson explains the Checkout

Subsidised and supported by fundraising and donations, Autism Initiatives unique programme utilises the skills and expertise of speech and language therapists, atypical child development specialists, health & wellbeing support workers as well as the experience of a mother of a child with autism. The fun and interactive programme introduces children to roleplaying games, social story scenarios, Apps, board games and trips to local venues in order to help support the development of particular skills that can be used in multiple scenarios.

Speaking about the recent visit, Tesco representative Gillian Hutson said: “It was a pleasure to be involved in such a fantastic initiative. I am so pleased the children enjoyed their visit to our Newtownbrea store. I look forward to seeing the children again and hopefully being involved with Autism Initiatives NI. Keep up the great work!” 

Social Skills Explored and Practised at the Tills!

Project Coordinator, Marie-Therese Fitzpatrick, commented on the visit: “As a Trustee on the Board of Autism Initiatives NI.  I was very pleased that Tesco were so willing to work with us to deliver this key part of our social skills programme. The Friendship Group is a unique programme, which aims not only to teach children with an Autism Spectrum Condition valuable social skills but also to give them opportunities to put these into practice in a community environment. Tesco staff went to great lengths to ensure the visit was a success and welcomed the idea from the outset."

Autism is a growing issue in Northern Ireland with record numbers of young children identified as having the condition or awaiting a diagnosis. Grainne Close, National Director of Autism Initiatives NI highlighted: “Thank you to Tesco for kindly inviting us to use their Community Space – a visit that has enriched our social skills group. Autism Initiatives prides itself on working with other organisations to deliver services and this is just another example of how we do that. The trip provided a safe space for children to put what they have learned in the classroom into practice by visiting an unfamiliar location, making their own shopping choices and initiating conversations with staff members. For children with Autism, striking up “small talk” can be crippling with shopping centres usually identified by parents as hotspots for sensory overload. The success of this recent trip is not only testament to the need for courses such as Friendship Group but also recognises the importance of community involvement by organisations such as Tesco. Through this partnered approach, we have provided real-life experience and coping mechanisms that each of these children can draw upon moving forward with their lives.”

Friendship Group will recommence in September 2017. To join the mailing list or fundraise/donate to Autism Initiatives’ programme of health & wellbeing activities, please contact