The site, near Aust in South Gloucestershire, will be turned into a unique, purpose-built Gympanzees centre, which will be the first of its kind in the UK. It will provide disabled children, young people, and their families with a safe space to exercise, have fun and socialise with others.
With plans to open from 2026, the centre will be designed to cater for children and young people with a range of needs, including those with significant physical differences who may require support for all their movements and neurodiverse children with sensory needs.
The site, which is an old motorway services and is easily accessible for families in the South West and Wales, will be the first permanent home for Gympanzees. Until now, it has been running events in the Easter and summer holidays in special schools. These are smaller ‘pop-up’ versions of the proposed centre and have been running for five years, with over 21,000 visitors welcomed in 130 days.
With specialised equipment, sensory rooms, and sessions which cater for different needs, pop up sessions have seen young people achieve a range of firsts: whether that's walking with the aid of equipment, socialising, or taking part in exercise.
Providing a lifeline for young people and their families
Gympanzees was founded by physiotherapist, Stephanie Wheen, when she realised that there was a lack of accessible leisure facilities for disabled children and young people. Without these spaces to exercise and socialise, disabled children are more likely to face physical and mental health problems.
It can have an impact on families too. One parent we spoke to explained:“Gympanzees has been a lifeline for our family. [Our daughter] was deprived of oxygen at birth. She is now ten years old and has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Her mobility is limited; she is a full-time wheelchair user with emerging independent sitting. As she has got older, organising a day trip, or simply going to the local park has become challenging.
Gympanzees has provided carefully planned sessions that enable us to meet other families in similar situations and make new friends. She never wants the fun to end and is heartbroken at the end of every session. It was clear that every aspect of the programme had been carefully considered to meet every person’s needs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that their support has changed our family’s life.”
What's next for Gympanzees?
Gympanzees is launching the next part of its fundraising appeal, so it can completely refurbish and fit out the newly acquired building with 10 different specialist exercise and activity rooms and spaces, with therapy rooms, exercise studios and a community cafe. The 'Project Home' appeal aims to raise £10.8 million through a multi-phased fundraising campaign.
To find out more about Project Home, or to make a donation, please visit: gympanzees.org.