The lights are down and music off, how Benalla Coles operates to cater to customers with autism each week

Different feel: Trent Monar-Venn, who has mild autism, shopped during the quiet hour.
Different feel: Trent Monar-Venn, who has mild autism, shopped during the quiet hour.

THE lights are down, there is no music over the PA system and no crate-filled dollies blocking the aisles.

Welcome to quiet hour at Coles in Benalla.

For the last three Tuesdays sensory distractions at the supermarket have been reduced between 10.30am and 11.30am to appeal to those with autism.

“The lights are controlled at head office and at 10.30 it actually goes to half-lighting and we switch the PA down,” store boss Michael Bye says.

“Some of the comments coming out from customers have been they generally liked the relaxed environment with no loud noise and no trolleys out.”

Buyer Trent Monar-Venn, 24, who has mild autism, welcomed the inclusiveness of the quiet hour.

“Everyone deserves to have a chance and deserves to have a fair go – I reckon it’s a great idea,” he said.

However, Mr Monar-Venn would prefer piped songs.

LIGHTS down: How Coles Benalla store appears during the quiet hour when illumination is reduced and PA sound cut.

LIGHTS down: How Coles Benalla store appears during the quiet hour when illumination is reduced and PA sound cut.

“Music is soothing, I listen to music when I’m anxious; I can get a bit aggressive and agitated,” he said. 

Mother Julie Kehl also would prefer to have a soundtrack to shopping.

Shhh. What's its like when the lights are down and sound off at Coles

Shhh. What's its like when the lights are down and sound off at Coles

“The lights don’t bother me, the music I like because it drowns out the kids when you’re shopping with them,” she said.

“It stops you having to hear the kids say ‘mum can I have this, mum can I have that?’.”

But another shopper Jimmy Langlands welcomed the serenity.

“I think it’s quite good, you turn the lights down you can’t see the prices,” he said.

“The world should be a lot quieter.”

Benalla is the lone Coles in the North East and Riverina in the quiet hour trial.

Being self-contained, rather than part of a shopping centre, and having lighting controlled remotely made it an easier store to participate than Coles supermarkets in Albury-Wodonga.

LIGHTS UP: How the supermarket looks in full brightness after the quiet hour. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

LIGHTS UP: How the supermarket looks in full brightness after the quiet hour. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

A Coles head office spokeswoman said the trial, which is supported by Autism Spectrum Australia, had been successful and the quiet hour was “here to stay”.

By the time the hour has ended at Benalla you feel as though you’re more likely to be in a library than a grocery.

It’s shock to suddenly have an advertisement for the new Lipton iced tea followed by the song I Can See Clearly Now disrupt the day.

Then again the song’s line – I can see all obstacles in my way – is apt given every light has been turned on.

The needs of those with autism have become part of the weekly shopping routine.