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Oakley School pupils test out Makaton boards at Asda in Longfield Road, Tunbridge Wells

By KentOnline reporter

Pupils from a special school in Tunbridge Wells have been the first to try out an innovative way to shop at the town's Asda supermarket.

Nine children in the Owl class at Oakley School were invited to the Longfield Road store to explore Makaton boards, which are designed to make shopping trips more enjoyable and less stressful for those with autism and other additional needs.

The shopping lists are designed with Makaton symbols that show a range of grocery choices such as milk, bread and bananas that a customer can tick off once they’ve been added to the trolley.

Pupils try out the Makaton boards at Asda in Tunbridge Wells (8384842)
Pupils try out the Makaton boards at Asda in Tunbridge Wells (8384842)

The boards were created in partnership with the Makaton Charity, which has developed a language programme of signs and symbols to aid communication.

The programme is familiar to many people with special educational needs and is routinely used in SEN schools and organisations, so simple for them to grasp in an unusual environment.

Jackie Thurtle, community and family engagement coordinator at Oakley School, said: “As soon as the class saw the boards, they were immediately engaged and excited.

"The symbols were instantly familiar as they use them every day at school.”

Stephen Hall, chief executive of the Makaton Charity, added: "We are thrilled that Asda are incorporating Makaton into their stores.

"The Makaton Friendly scheme, which recognises establishments of all kinds where Makaton users will feel comfortable, is going from strength to strength.

"We are working with schools, emergency services, attractions, retail and hospitality outlets including many well-known brands.

"This ensures that the excellent work done by organisations such as Asda continues within the community so that all customers feel welcome."

Pupils try out the Makaton boards at Asda in Tunbridge Wells (8384855)
Pupils try out the Makaton boards at Asda in Tunbridge Wells (8384855)

The idea for the boards came from Asda’s 2017 Happy Little Helpers initiative, where children with learning difficulties could access a visual shopping list to help keep them engaged and make their trip a more pleasant experience.

After the success of the initiative, which was launched in 300 stores, Asda began working with The Makaton Charity to make the boards even more accessible and inclusive.

Jodie Tate, Asda vice president of central retail operations and chair of Asda’s Inclusion Board, said: “We’ve been working closely with the Makaton Charity to implement signs and symbols to support the fun shopping lists, and we are really proud to have become the first major UK supermarket to roll out the Makaton counters to more than 384 stores."

All UK Asda superstores will now be equipped with the Makaton boards, available from the customer service desk.

The Longfield Road store was severely damaged last week, however, after thieves used a digger to steal a cash machine in the latest of a series of ram-raids to hit the county.

Read more: All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells

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