Business

Charity plans to open UK’s first disability-specific play centre

A Bristol-based charity has launched a campaign to establish the UK’s first disability-specific play and leisure facility for children and young people.

Gympanzees is aiming to raise £2.2m to secure a building for the charity and to fund fitting it with specialist rooms with accessible exercise and soft play equipment for disabled children.

The company currently operates a pop-up facility in a special school, which is converted during school holidays.

The organisation, which received The Queen’s Award for enterprise and innovation earlier this year, is now looking to open a permanent facility in the city by 2023.

Its proposed new centre would be designed to cater for children and young people aged up to 25 with sensory, physical, learning difficulties, SEN and any mild to profound disability.

Open seven days a week, it would also cater for non-disabled children, and include activity rooms featuring trampoline, sensory and soft play, a specialist gym, accessible playgrounds, exercise suites, therapy rooms and a community cafe.

Gympanzees was founded by physiotherapist Stephanie Wheen in 2017 after her experiences of struggling to find any leisure or soft play centres that were suitable for disabled children that she worked with.

Ms Wheen said that families of the 66,000 children and young people with disabilities that live within an hour of Bristol, needed more than a temporary place to support their health and well-being.

Ms Wheen said: “We’ve received huge amounts of support and proven our concept with our equipment lending library, online resources and temporary pop-up events, which have seen 8,000 visitors over 58 days, with some families travelling over five hours for an hour-and-a-half session.

“The response to our plans has been fantastic and we are incredibly excited to enter this new stage and take our families and supporters with us on this new journey”.

Emma Louise, from Locking, North Somerset, has a daughter who is a full-time wheelchair user. Ms Louise said having a permanent Gympanzees facility to go to would help to give the family a “sense of belonging.”

She said: “To have a place where all children are celebrated because of their abilities and for her to be able to play with other children with different needs and disabilities, where everyone feels welcome and safe, it would be huge for us. There is nothing like it in the UK.”

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