How a geek shop became a safe place for neurodiverse Ipswich families

Nathan and Jennifer Beecroft playing Pokemon at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Nathan and Jennifer Beecroft playing Pokemon at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Neurodiverse Ipswich families have found a safe place to bring their kids since a geeky board game shop arrived in the town centre. 

For parents of children with additional needs, normal cafes often pose issues when their children act up. 

But in the supportive environment of Geek Retreat in Upper Brook Street, which opened at the former Age UK site in October, life has since changed for many families. 

Geek Retreat on Upper Brook Street in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Geek Retreat in Upper Brook Street in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Jen Beecroft, from Ipswich, who comes to Pokemon club with her son Nathan only really came into the town centre to go to Boots once a week.

Mrs Beecroft said: "We would just come in for a flying visit and now we could come in all day. 

"Geek Retreat makes Ipswich somewhere I would like to go. It used to feel dead and now it feels like somewhere you can go to. 

"It's somewhere more accepting and where when my son has a crazy five minutes because he has additional needs it's okay. 

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"And okay for his friend who has ADHD. The staff are okay with all of their craziness.

"The biggest difference it has made to my family is that it has brought my husband out of his shell.

"He was in quite a deep depression. 

"It's really helping him. It's so nice to go somewhere where being a geek is encouraged. 

Demari James playing Mario Kart at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Demari James playing Mario Kart at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

"We've gone Pokemon mad in my family, we have cards coming out of our ears. 

"The staff are just so welcoming and friendly. They will do anything they can to help. 

"It's our favourite place to come in town."

Her son Nathan agrees, saying: "I'm excited, happy and it's good."

James Rose playing Pokemon at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

James Rose playing Pokemon at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Clare Rose's son, James, and husband have been going since the beginning and now Mrs Rose has been along for the first time. 

She said: "It's a brilliant place for them to hang out. Knowing they're safe here and I can read a book or go on my phone and I don't have to worry. 

"And the staff here are lovely and are willing and eager to help. 

People playing games at the Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

People playing games at the Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

She hopes there will be more community places like this soon in the town. 

Mrs Rose added: "Somewhere nice for the children to be where they're happy, rather than a cold skate park on a rainy day. 

"You can just chuck them in here and they can come and play."

Joel Mayo, a regular at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Joel Mayo, a regular at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

It's not just neurodiverse kids that are being helped but adults with Autism like regular Joel Mayo from Ipswich. 

Mr Mayo said: "It has had a big change on my life. Without this, I would be home alone and stuck indoors. 

"I get bored so easily and when I do something I like it's not so boring and I've been helping them out here.

"I notice small things and tell the staff. They appreciate me as they don't have time because they're busy.

"When you're Autistic your good at one thing but not good at the others."

Spiderman enjoying a game at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Spiderman Declan Grady enjoying a game at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Declan Grady and friend Ty Bartley also feel that Geek Retreat just gives everyone who is a bit different a place to go. 

"I used to sit indoors all the time as I'm at Uni," Mr Grady said. "I never used to go out so this is a great place for me to come.

"Coming out of lockdown and having this here, has just opened the community up.

"Nerds get a lot of ridicule. It's not the social norm. I feel more comfortable here than playing football or on the high street.

"The staff are so welcoming for all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. They just don't care."

Richard Corfield playing a game at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Richard Corfield playing a game at Geek Retreat in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Mr Bartley said: "It's a great place for communities to grow that haven't been able to.

"I now have a closer group of friends. 

"It's also been huge for the LGBT+ community. This is a safe place for any potentially prejudiced individuals, the people who don't fit in."

Rob Harden and Sharon Lockhart, joint owners of Geek Retreat on Upper Brook Street in Ipswich. Pictu

Rob Harden and Sharon Lockhart, joint owners of Geek Retreat on Upper Brook Street in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Owners Sharon Lockhart and Rob Harden have also been so happy with the positive feedback. 

"We have just lucked out here," Mr Harden. "It's kind of garish with the purple carpet but people say it feels like a lounge here. 

"It just feels calm or something. It's also the people. The atmosphere is infectious.

"People can see we're smiley and we're welcoming."

Geek Retreat on Upper Brook Street in Ipswich. Picture: Danielle Booden

Geek Retreat on Upper Brook Street in Ipswich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Geek Retreat also launched a gaming passport for kids to get stamps by visiting the Nerd Hut, Langden Games and Wiff Waff. 

"We want to support others," former teacher Ms Lockhart added. "We have quite a small selection where you can learn the games. 

"If you want to do more Warhammer, then you can go to Langden down the road."

There are also events for parents and carers of autistic children, seniors, game tournaments and kids events regularly. 

Geek Retreat is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 10pm and Sunday 11am to 7pm.

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