Imagine if every time you entered the gym, it felt intimidating and overwhelming. It’s noisy; music blasting from the speakers, machines beeping and whirring, weights clanging and dropping, people talking and shouting. It is difficult to focus. The gym is also very bright and crowded. You feel like you are blinded by the lights. They hurt your eyes and give you a headache. You can’t find the switches or the dimmers. You wish you could turn them off. Sometimes you try to wear noise-cancelling headphones or find a quiet corner. But it doesn’t always work.

Imagine how it could feel to want to be at the gym, but to feel like the space is not right for you at all.

At The Y, we believe in the power of inspired and connected communities, where people are safe to reach their full potential; that is why we’re here. We aim to help identify and break down barriers, so more people can create and sustain their wellbeing journey every single day. Part of that commitment is in creating inclusive and accessible fitness centres so that EVERYONE can enjoy.

Our North Shore team identified an opportunity to ensure access for all; to reduce anxiety and sensory stress for customers with specific needs, such as autism, by providing a quieter and less stimulating environment in centre. Called ’quiet hour’ this recognises that people have different accessibility needs and creates an environment to match.

We get feedback from our customers and work hard to respond so that we can support our community and consistently improve our services. In response to customer queries, Shayla Webster and Hadassah Moreton from The Y North Shore became aware that the current operations could be made more accessible to serve our diverse community. Led by our consumers, the team sought inspiration from successful initiatives in the market. Inspired by Woolworth’s own Quiet hour initiative, and local malls doing the same thing, the North Shore team implemented changes to provide “quiet hour’ several times a week in their fitness centre.

What The Y North Shore does to minimise noise:

  1. Turns music off downstairs at reception & the fitness centre.
  2. Turns reception fridge light off, and the fridge itself as it noticeably noisy with the music off.
  3. Opens all automatic doors to avoid the noise of them opening and closing.
  4. Closes some of the blinds (or lights) depending on the weather outside if safe to do so.
  5. Encourages members and customers to minimise the noise they make in the gym; this includes having conversations at a lower volume if possible.
  6. All staff to speak at a lower volume.
  7. Turn the reception phone volume down so when a call comes through, it won't be loud.

Staff are also educated to understand how they can support our diverse community.

"Low Sensory Hour has been going well. There is a such a noticeable difference with our centre noise, and lights particularly upstairs in the fitness centre."

Sport NZ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant, Rebecca Scott, says sport and recreation should be representative of New Zealand’s diverse communities and proactive about inclusion, which starts with an openness to learn.

“We know that having a diversity of perspectives and experiences leads to better outcomes for everyone. By taking the time to learn about people’s unique experiences and any barriers they face, we can actively work together to eliminate these. It’s up to us to make people from all backgrounds, ages and abilities feel welcome, respected and that they belong.”

After some initial curiosity, members are loving the initiative, and are "starting to understand the purpose of why we've got this place".

"Your Low Sensory Hour is awesome! It's so peaceful and it gives me a chance to focus in on my workouts without all the noise and busyness around" - Sam.

The staff are loving it too!

With the whole team onboard, Y North Shore had their first quiet hour on February 2nd and haven't looked back. For customers at The Y North Shore, ‘silence’ about a new project has never sounded so good.