Northampton charity VR Therapies left ‘heartbroken’ after Christmas Day burglary

  • Rebecca Gill told ITV News Anglia the break-in had devastated the charity

A charity which is the first in the world to provide virtual reality therapies has been left "heartbroken" after vital kit worth tens of thousands of pounds was stolen on Christmas Day.

VR Therapies in Northampton was left devastated when thieves smashed through doors and stole equipment, including VR headsets, adaptive controllers, tablets and phones.

A 41-year-old man has admitted burglary and will be sentenced next month, however, Northamptonshire police say it is unlikely the equipment will be recovered.

Former nurse Rebecca Gill founded the charity last year, which claims to be the first centre in the world to provide virtual reality services as an alternative to traditional therapy.

The technology is used to help people with a range of needs including children with autism and PTSD survivors, helping them to escape into scenarios that are not accessible in the real world such as flying into space as an astronaut, walking on the moon, or even swimming with dolphins.

VR headsets and adaptive controllers were among the items stolen in the burglary. Credit: VR Therapies

Ms Gill said: "It's my baby, this is what I've worked so hard on for the last four years. It's heartbreaking."

She explained how the theft would deprive some of the charity's clients of being able to use their technologies.

She said: "They stole accessibility items, like our adaptive controllers, [which are needed] so children with special needs can access all of these technologies and games."

The charity has been able to restart some of its services and replace one VR headset after receiving around £5,600 from a fundraising page, started by one of its clients, army veteran Nick Wilson.

He has complex PTSD and has been in a wheelchair for over a year due to spinal injuries that he suffered on duty. He said the services were a lifeline.

"You compare a lot between where you are now and where you used to be, which then makes it really difficult and it can impact your mental health as well," he said.

"So, being able to go scuba diving or parachuting or to do the stuff you maybe now can't do, it's a lifesaver. It can literally be a lifesaver."

The charity held sessions for young people who have cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Credit: VR Therapies

The centre said it was relying on donations to pull through to replace the rest of its equipment as the insurance money would only cover a small number of headsets.

Director Matt Fishlock said: "It's extremely vital. Insurance money takes quite a while to come through, so to be able to have those donations to get the equipment now just puts us ahead of track for running the sessions again and getting back out there."

As well as the VR experiences, the charity has a multi-sensory centre which uses animations and lights that change depending on the person's voice.

The sessions are tailored to each client with a focus on person-centred and holistic support.

Peter Owen, 41, admitted burglary at Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court on 3 January. He has been remanded in custody until 3 February, when he will be sentenced.