Can you hear the sleigh bells ringing yet?
This week we’re talking all about Santa’s grottos. It might seem too early but if you’re planning to visit one this year, it’s probably something you need to think about because some of the most popular ones get booked up far in advance.
Meeting Santa might be the highlight of Christmas for many kids, but for children with special educational needs the bright lights, music and crowds can be really stressful.
Thankfully, more and more venues now realise they must make adaptations to attract families with additional needs. Every year more ‘relaxed’ sessions pop up for children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit Father Christmas.
So here are 8 of the best relaxed Santa’s grottos around Leeds this Christmas. I’d love to know which grotto – either in this region or further afield – is your favourite in the comments below.
1. Harlow Carr, Harrogate
This is one of the loveliest Santa’s grottos we’ve been to. Children’s charity Unity is working with Harlow Carr in Harrogate to host two accessible Santa sessions in December this year (2019).
The session includes songs and storytime. Every child will get to meet Santa to receive their gift, along with some magic reindeer dust to sprinkle on Christmas Eve to guide Santa’s sleigh to their home.
These accessible sessions will be smaller numbers to reduce sensory input / crowding and remove queueing; families will be sent visual supports and running order of the session in advance to help prepare their child; Harlow Carr staff have received inclusion training from The Unity; and volunteers from The Unity will also be on hand on the day to provide support.
The two inclusive sessions will be available on Sunday, December 1 and Sunday, December 8 at 9.15am.
For more information, visit the Harlow Carr website
To enquire or book one of these sessions, email email@example.com with your name and contact number and someone will be in touch. Note: these listed sessions do not appear on the ticket booking page.
2. Lotherton Hall, Leeds
Over the last few years, the Christmas experience has become one of the must-see attractions over the festive period. It includes a Twelve Days of Christmas Walk, the opportunity to help the elves in their workshop, and a visit to Santa in the North Pole.
This year, the attraction is hosting two relaxed sessions for families with additional needs. Children will be able to visit the elves in the North Pole and Santa in his house in a quieter environment.
The sessions will be held on Tuesday, December 3, and Thursday, December 12 from 3.30-6pm.
For more information about The Christmas Experience, visit Lotherton Hall’s website
To book a slot at one of the relaxed sessions, call 0113 378 3167
3. Stockeld Park, Wetherby
Charity Autism Angels is once again partnering with Stockeld Park in Wetherby to offer Santa visits structured to fit the needs of children on the autism spectrum on November 23 and 24.
There are sessions on November 23 and 24 at 9.30am to 10am and then 10am to 10.30am
Tickets are £12 per child for the grotto. Access to other Stockeld events have to be booked direct with Stockeld Park.
As part of this experience the sound will be lowered and visitors will not have to stand waiting in the queue. They will be supported by Autism Angels’ team of trained volunteers so everyone can have a relaxing, supported experience for the whole family.
For more information, visit Stockeld Park’s website
To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org
3. The Donkey Sanctuary, Leeds
This event isn’t a ‘relaxed’ session but the charity does a lot of work with children with additional needs so it’s a very inclusive environment.
The annual fundraising Christmas Fair includes a Santa’s Grotto, a Winter Wonderland donkey yard, stalls, games a bouncy castle, and seasonal homemade food and drink. Plus the opportunity to learn about the Donkey-Assisted Therapy that the charity provides.
No booking required. For more information visit The Donkey Sanctuary Facebook page. There are also sanctuaries in Belfast, Birmingham, Derbyshire, Ivybridge, Manchester and its headquarters in Sidmouth.
The fair in Leeds is on Sunday, December 8 from 10am-3pm
Note: It can get very busy at the Christmas Fair and there may be a queue for the grotto. From past experience, it’s best to visit as soon as it opens.
4. Abbey House Museum, Leeds
Abbey House Museum is holding relaxed Santa’s Grotto sessions for children with additional needs on Saturday, December 7.
They will take place from 9.30 to 10.30am and 10.30am to 11.30am
During the sessions, the elves will be around to help children with craft activities and Santa will be in the museum’s Victorian streets so children can choose how and when to approach him.
If you can’t make the date, the museum is happy to advise on when the quieter times for the grotto might be. It is also happy for children to do a pre-visit to help with anxiety levels. It will also try to help in other ways to make the visit easier. For special requirements, ring Sarah Allen, learning and access officer at Abbey House Museum and Kirkstall Abbey on 0113 3784083.
To book one of the sessions, tel: 0113 3784079 or email: email@example.com
Booking will open on November 7.
6. Eureka! Halifax
Eureka! Children’s Museum is providing Accessible Grottos from 10am on weekends from November 23, and daily from Friday, December 20.
The specially-trained Grotto team are opening the doors an hour early at weekends just for visitors with sensory conditions, autism, or any additional needs. This is a quieter time for families to enjoy both the museum and the grotto. The team can adapt the grotto to minimise any triggers or dislikes that children may have and make sure that families don’t have to queue.
Cost: Entrance to the museum, or Annual Pass, plus £4 for the grotto which includes a gift. Carers get in free to the museum. Show a valid Max Card to get free entry for one child and one adult.
The museum is also part of the Sunflower Lanyard scheme for people with hidden disabilities.
7. Airedale and Wharfedale Autism Resource (AWARE)
Families going on the Ingleborough Hall residential with Keighley-based organisation AWARE in December will have their own autism-friendly Santa visit in the cave.
The family residential will take place from Friday, December 6 to Sunday, 8 December at Ingleborough Hall in Clapham.
Family residentials are open to members of AWARE with families of any size with children aged four and over who do not get direct payments and have not had a Short Break from the Inclusion Project before.
Each family will have their own bedroom. Activities and food are included in the £20 cost.
There are still family places available. For more information or to book a place please email Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on how to become a member of AWARE, visit the website
8. Mother Shipton’s, Knaresborough
Mother Shipton’s will host it’s Christmas experience over the festive season, including a Champion Day on November 30 for children and adults who would prefer a quieter, more relaxed visit to Santa with no bright lights or loud noises.
The Christmas experience includes an activity pack, letter writing to Santa, gingerbread man decorating (for an extra cost), helping Acorn the Toymaker to make traditional wooden toys to fill up Santa’s sleigh, storytelling and the grotto itself.
Under 1: £10.00
For more details, visit the website
- Is your favourite Santa’s Grotto on the list? Let me know where your favourite ‘relaxed’ session is in the comments below.
- If you enjoyed reading The Best Relaxed Santa’s Grottos around Leeds this Christmas, read: Lapland With Autism: Our Christmas Adventure