St James’ Park gives special gift to autistic children

A North East mum, worried her autistic son was missing out on the fun of Christmas, has come to the rescue – by arranging a festive lunch with Santa for autistic children.

And not only will it be held at one of the sporting world’s most well-known venues, but all families living with autism are welcome – and Santa Claus himself will be making a special visit to meet them.

Samantha Doyle, from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, set about planning the event, to be held on Monday 21 December, at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park stadium, after realising six-year-old Freddie was missing out on a lot of the events and activities other children take for granted.

“Due to Freddie’s autism, his reactions to things can be extreme and unpredictable and, over the years, I’d gradually stopped taking him to the sort of events most children go to,” said Samantha.

“He couldn’t stand in a queue in a department store to meet Santa Claus, for example and even going out to a restaurant for lunch can be difficult,” she added.

“And, because you can’t see autism, people don’t realise he has the condition; they just think he’s being naughty and badly behaved.  Then I realised my concerns about what other people might think were stopping Freddie having the sort of fun all children should have, especially at Christmas – and so I decided to organise this special event.”

And when it came to choosing a venue, Samantha, area sales manager for leading UK catering company, Sodexo Prestige Venues & Events, at St James’ Park, had a head start.

“The stadium’s the perfect venue,” she said. “Not only has it got the space and the catering facilities, but it’s a venue that attracts kids and families.”

On the day, the children will not only meet Santa Claus but also enjoy a festive three course lunch with their families and a special mini tour of the stadium.

Samantha’s idea has not only received the backing of the North East Autism Society but staff have also agreed to assist with the planning and will be there on the day.

The society’s family development manager Kerrie Highcock said: “I think it’s a great idea. A lot of families can feel socially isolated and the children do miss out on a lot so I think this is amazing – it’s going to be fantastic.”

Bookings are now being taken for this event.  Tables can be reserved by calling 0191 201 8525 or e-mailing

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