'It would mean the world' - The fight for a place where all children can play

Picture of disabled 8-year-old Isabella on her adapted bicycle
Isabella would be one of thousands of children to benefit from the new play centre

A multi million-pound campaign is underway to open the UK's first permanent play and leisure centre specifically designed to tackle isolation faced by disabled children.

Project Home, which is run by the Bristol-based charity Gympanzees, hopes to provide a facility for the 66,000 disabled young people living within an hour's catchment of the city. 

Trial sessions in local schools featuring specialist equipment for different needs attracted 8,000 visitors. The ambition now is to scale it up with the UK's first dedicated centre at a yet-to-be-identified site on the edge of Bristol.

Emma Louise, whose eight-year-old daughter Isabella has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, says standard soft play centres have become virtually inaccessible.

"It was that growing guilt and sense of isolation that, as a mother, we can't go to the soft play as a typical family would and, even with her brother, we will take them to the park but she's can't go on the roundabout, she can't go on the swings, can't go on the slide."

Emma adds: "When you have a baby, this is not the road you expect to go on and it's just about enabling her and giving her all the opportunities that any other child would have."

She says the new centre would give the family a real sense of belonging.

Emma Louise says the new play centre would transform her daughter's life

"It's a place where any child is celebrated, a place where any child can go to play, to socialize," Emma adds. "There are no barriers. The staff are spot on with all their resources, their ideas.

"Nothing is too much trouble while you're there and it would mean the absolute world to us."

The centre is the brainchild of Stephanie Wheen who works as a physiotherapist for disabled children. She hopes her idea will eventually establish 13 centres around the UK.

Gympanzees founder and CEO Stephanie Wheen wants to establish 13 play centres around the UK Credit: ITV News

"Our centres will be open for the public for about 20 per cent of the sessions where everyone can be together," she explains.

"Other children can see a child in a wheelchair or with autism and play alongside them, get to know them, so that it becomes normalised that children are out and about which is how it should be."

The campaign needs to raise more than two million pounds to secure a building and fund specialist rooms with the latest equipment, free to use by those who can't afford to pay. 

The plan is to open in around 18 months.