Centre makes a difference for families with disabled children

August 29 2018
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EMERSONS Green has been the site of a unique activity centre for children with disabilities this summer.

Gympanzees is a social enterprise created by Stephanie Wheen, a physiotherapist who supports disabled children in Bristol. After being regularly told by parents how little there is for their children to do outside of school as a result of their disabilities, she came up with the idea of building and running the UK’s first dedicated centre to cater for the play, exercise and social needs of thousands of disabled children who live in and around the city. 

Studies have shown that 84 per cent of families with a disabled child aren’t able to access regular leisure facilities, which causes their health and well-being to suffer. In addition, 72 per cent of parents have mental health issues as a result of the isolation, which Gympanzees wants to change. 

To prove the need for an inclusive activity centre and to give the community a taste of what’s to come, Gympanzees set up a crowd funding campaign earlier this year to run a temporary activity centre over the summer holidays. They needed to raise £60,000 to buy the specialist play equipment that was required, and thanks to a huge amount of support they were able to beat their fundraising target and raise £85,000 in total.

As a result, Gympanzees’ first pop-up was held at Emersons Green Primary School in August. The school was chosen as it has a resource base, which means that it has provision to integrate disabled children within the school and has disabled parking facilities, disabled access and specialised toilet facilities with changing beds and hoists. 

As part of the pop-up, there were five indoor play areas including soft play, an indoor playground, music room, sensory room and gym, as well as an outside trampoline and playground. There was also a marquee for refreshments and a space for families to relax.  

Stephanie was delighted by how many families had visited. She said: “At Gympanzees we want to give every child the chance to play and have fun.

“As well as Bristol, we’ve had people travel for sessions from Tewkesbury, Bridgwater and Exeter and the feedback has been absolutely amazing. 

“We’ve had lots of happy tears, and so many parents have said how they normally dread the summer holidays but that this has made such a difference this year, which makes me feel really proud.”

Stephanie told The Voice that Gympanzees plan to have a dedicated leisure centre for disabled children and young people built in Bristol within four years. 

The organisation’s next steps are to apply to become a charity in September, and they will continue to run pop-up activity centres until the leisure centre has been built.

To find out more visit https://gympanzees.org/