Neurodiversity project launched in Suffolk and Norfolk zoos on World Autism Day

World Autism Awareness Day takes place this Saturday, April 2 and the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) is championing the event with the launch of a Neurodiversity Project.

The project will promote wider access to its two zoos in Norfolk and Suffolk for people with neurodiverse conditions.

The United Nations declared the day as World Autism Awareness Day to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.

During the day, ZSEA is giving 100 per cent of ticket sales from Banham Zoological Gardens in Norfolk and Africa Alive Zoological Reserve in Suffolk which will be reinvested into the first of these projects.

Activities at the zoos on World Autism Day will include:

Africa Alive Zoological Reserve

  • Discovery Centre – in order to allow all of visitors to enjoy the space, it will be a quiet zone between 10am to 11am and 3.30pm to 4.30pm.
  • Discovery Theatre – a hands on animal related discovery touch table will set up between 11.15am to 11.45pm.
  • Road Trains – these will be quiet trains with no commentary between 11:30am to 12pm and 3pm to 3.30pm
  • There will be trails set up around the zoos include a top trumps trail for animal enthusiasts and a Zoo Explorer Makaton trail

Banham Zoological Gardens

  • Woodland Walk – visitors will be guided on a 15-minute learning walk through the woodland area.  Visitors will be able to learn about animals and to see and touch animal artefacts. Meet at 12pm on the right-hand side of the Road Train station.
  • Road Trains - these will be quiet trains with no commentary between 11.30am to 12pm and 3pm to 3.30pm
  • The Glade – this will be a quiet zone all day on April 2.

ZSEA brand ambassador Alfie Bowen, a renowned wildlife photographer who grew up near Africa Alive Zoological Reserve, will be signing copies of his book “Wild World: Nature Through an Autistic Eye” in the gift shop at Africa Alive Zoological Reserve on the day from 10am to 12pm and 2pm to 3pm. Alfie’s photography and signed books will be on display at both zoos.

Alfie said: “For nearly 20 years, Africa Alive and Banham have played an important part in my journey, offering a safe space where my anxiety disappears like the flick of a switch. 

"The one thing I want is for people to be accepted for who they are and as a Brand Ambassador for ZSEA I am supporting the goal of making Banham and Africa Alive the most welcoming and accepting zoos in the UK where everyone is free to be themselves."

During March Alfie Bowen met with MBA students from the University of East Anglia (UEA) who have now completed a management consultancy project on neurodiversity for ZSEA as part of their MBA course. After carrying out customer research, visits and interviews the MBA students gave an analysis and recommendations including for grants which could help widen access to the zoos.

The recommendations include signage with neurodiversity in mind, story boards to help people plan their visits, dedicated neurodiversity days, quiet zones and partnerships with neurodiversity and autism organisations.

University of East Anglia MBA student Roberta Willner says: “ZSEA is clearly looking ahead to the future and neurodiversity is prominent within their business strategy. 

"The staff have been open and welcoming during our research and we have identified a number of opportunities for new features at the zoo. Meeting Alfie Bowen has been the highlight of the week – he is truly inspirational.”

Claudia Roberts, CEO at the Zoological Society of East Anglia, said: “It is our goal to become the leading zoo for neurodiversity and we are thrilled to be launching a new focus around accessibility for neurodiversity to widen access and inclusivity within our zoos.

“Through the support of our charity ambassador, Alfie Bowen, and the wonderful project which the MBA students at the University of East Anglia have put together, we are looking forward to making positive changes around our zoos to support our commitment to neurodiversity.”

For further information about ZSEA’s commitment to neurodiversity and to book tickets see