October 6, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on charities helping people with cerebral palsy

The impact of the pandemic means that, as well as having depleted funds, many charities are unable to offer their normal services due to the restrictions in place. Countless vulnerable people have therefore been left without the help and support that they need in this already difficult time.

The impact on one charity - Gympanzees

Gympanzees is an inspirational and unique charity based in Bristol. They run leisure facilities for children and young adults with disabilities. Up until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Gympanzees was run as a ‘pop up’ leisure facility, the ultimate goal being to raise enough funds for it to be permanent, offering leisure and recreation opportunities for children and young people with disabilities and their families seven days a week.

The pop ups took place during school holidays and offered a variety of activities, from specialised gyms and sensory rooms to therapy suites and social cafés, providing the chance to exercise, play and build friendships for the whole family. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions imposed during lockdown, Gympanzees were not able to operate these hugely popular and unique sessions. This obviously prevented countless children, young people, and their families from experiencing the supportive, accessible and inclusive environment that they had come to rely upon.

As well as the access to specialist equipment and play space the pop up sessions offer, pop ups are also invaluable for socialising. A huge problem that parents of children with disabilities face is isolation, even at the best of times, and let alone during a global pandemic. Many want to meet other parents of disabled children and feel it is important for their children to meet other children with disabilities too. Gympanzees therefore offered a space where whole families could visit together, siblings were welcome and there was also a café. This type of facility meant that families could have fun together away from some of the strains of home. The cancellation of the pop ups therefore had a huge psychological impact too.

As with many other charities, a lot of Gympanzees fundraising events were also cancelled, which resulted in a loss of funds and a huge blow to the long term plans of having a permanent facility. Fran Garland, Operations Officer said “Our income has all but dried up due to COVID-19, but families need our support more than ever.”

How Gympanzees have adapted to the current circumstances

Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the CEO and Founder Steph Wheen and her team have adapted and thought of new ways to continue to provide positive support to the families that rely on their services, before they can start operating fully again.

Home videos

Gympanzees have shared a series of home videos on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for families to access.

The videos highlight fun and educational/therapeutic activities that families can do at home. For example, making salt dough (kneading, pushing, stretching, twisting and especially pinching are all great techniques to develop fine and gross motor skills), making your own juggling balls and making an at home obstacle course.

Gympanzees said:

“We know the positive impacts physical exercises and activities can have on our children, so we started our home videos to assist parents in coming up with activities, games and ideas for their children. We worked closely with therapists and experts to come up with games and activities that were fun and engaging, but also had loads of therapeutic benefits that children would normally get from physios and other therapists.”

Lending library

A lending library of equipment was set up so that families could borrow the specialist play and exercise equipment including sensory boxes through to therapy equipment, gym equipment and soft play. They offered a delivery service of the equipment to families’ homes.

One parent said:

“I have 4 year-old son with CP and Autism. One thing he really enjoys is soft play which we haven’t been able to access during lockdown. Soft play is great for getting him moving as well as working on his motor skills and balance. The soft play from the Lending Library has kept him safe and I think it has definitely benefitted his concentration and physical movement.”

Zoom Webinars

A series of educational and informative webinars were also streamed via Zoom. These centred on intimate chats led by therapists where families could learn, but also chat and share their difficulties, successes and support each other, helping to reduce their isolation.

One parent said:

"I’ve a 4 year old girl with quad dystonic CP so I joined the Zoom Session which was incredible. I have learnt so much from both and the fact the therapists have been able provide individualised input as well as generic insight has made the sessions incredibly beneficial. I did not expect this and they really listened to the needs of our children and tailored things excellently. I’ve also loved hearing the stories of other parents. I can’t quite believe these sessions have been free as the quality is so high. I have left feeling enthused, enabled to try new strategies with my daughter and positive- feelings that have been in short supply through lockdown. I cannot thank you or the experts who have given up their time enough. Will be recommending you on all my networks. Just hope I can visit you guys in person one day! Thank you so much."

Online Hub

They also put together an online resource page packed with ideas, information, ‘how to’ explanations, videos and external links to help children develop a variety of skills, catering for different play and exercise needs.

COVID-19 has obviously been a real challenge for many in the cerebral palsy community. However Gympanzees has demonstrated that there is still support out there which, whilst remote, can help parents and their children to socialise and cope with the difficulties of living with cerebral palsy.

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