LEISURE centres are normally bright and noisy places but next month Beaminster's will be dim and quiet.

That's because it is one of 19 in the south west signed up to a nationwide campaign organised by the National Autistic Society.

Lights will be dimmed and the music turned off at 19 leisure centres managed by 1610 in Somerset, Devon, and Dorset on Wednesday October 4 between noon and 1pm as part of the National Autistic Society’s Autism Hour initiative.

The autism hour aims to highlight the difficulties that many autistic people experience in public places - 64 per cent of autistic people and their families avoid going out because public places such as shops and leisure centres can be too noisy and bright for them to cope with.

Nearly 80 per cent of autistic people feel socially isolated as they feel overwhelmed by bright lights, crowds and loud background music.

From the week beginning Monday October 2 shops and businesses are being encouraged to take simple steps for 60 minutes that lead to a more autism-friendly world.

1610 has already trialled and introduced a “quiet gym” with “music free moves “ sessions at lunchtimes which has proved beneficial to older people who have impaired hearing and to people on the autistic spectrum.

1610 health development manager Amanda Godsell said: “It is estimated that around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK which is more than 1 in 100 people. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people.

"So it is likely that we all know someone or a family who is coping with this condition so it is imperative to show some sensitivity to their needs.

"By taking part in the Autism Hour we hope to highlight this issue to a wider audience and encourage other businesses to take steps to meet the needs of autistic people so that they feel less isolated from the communities in which they live.”