A woman in a purple top and blue top are stood waving at the camera

The Pop Ups are smaller versions of our plans for the Gympanzees main centre, they help the team develop plans for our permanent home and of course provide much needed play, exercise, and social opportunities for families with disabled children and young people!

But how much planning actually goes into a Pop Up?

Fran: As soon as one Pop Up ends, I’m already thinking about the next one! There is so much that goes into the planning process, organising the room layout, session types, the timetable, staff, equipment, safety, aids such as hoists and toilets, marketing, volunteers, organising the café……. there is a lot to think about!

Lucy: Until you have been to a Pop Up, it’s hard to describe it to anyone. There is so much that goes into it. Firstly, we need to find the right location that will be accessible to everyone and somewhere that is big enough to host all different interactive rooms and spaces. So, step one is finding a suitable venue and once that’s sorted, it’s all system go!

Fran: We purposely find a venue that is close to the motorway and transport routes so people can get to us.

Lucy: Once the venue is sorted, we look at the room layout, the different sessions, equipment, and a big part of my job is staff and volunteers! This year we had 37 volunteers and 13 staff in total. Volunteers come from all over Bristol and from all walks of life. This year we had speech and language therapists, businesses, students, friends, family, teachers, physiotherapists, siblings. It was amazing to see people from all walks of life come together!

Fran: A big part of my job is analysing feedback and making sure we are delivering the best service for families. Talking to people about their experience, trying to understand why they have come to us, what they get out of the experience, working out if we are getting it right and where we need to tweak.

A mum is helping their child climb through a red and yellow tunnel
A girl is a blue dress is balancing on a platform swing
A mother and son are balancing on red squishy rings
Two young boys are playing with a light up sandpit

Lucy: We cater for such a diverse range of disabilities which means we must make sure we have enough variety of equipment to suit everyone. We are very lucky at SGS Pegasus School this year we had so much room, this meant we could have breakout spaces, chill spaces, and a huge outside space as well as all the sensory rooms.

Each room is designed in a way that encourages exercise. Aside from the calm sensory, each room encourages you to do some sort of work out. Whether that be jumping, swinging, using your hands and feet, running, spinning, bashing etc. We call this ‘stealthy health’ as children are unaware that their playing is keeping them fit. For example, I had one child that spent ½ an hour jumping on the trampolines before coming into the Gym and saying he didn’t like the gym because you had to do exercises in it.

Fran: It’s amazing to see the immediate benefits, at Easter we had an 8-year-old wheelchair user who walked 3km in our equipment, an 18-year-old doubled the time they could spend on a wheelchair cross trainer and a child took their headphones off in public for the first time in 6 months! It makes all the planning and hard work worthwhile, and it honestly give me goosebumps thinking about the main centre, if these results come from just a few sessions at Easter….

Lucy: If we had the main centre, there are so many elements to putting on the Pop Up that would be so much easier. Hoisting is such an important part of what we do in the sessions. With a permanent facility we wouldn’t need to hire them, and we could have ceiling ones instead. Our staffing team wouldn’t need to be re-recruited each time a Pop Up came around. Volunteers would be there from the start meaning we could shape roles to suit them personally. Set up also took two days this year and takedown took 10 of us a full 8 hours on the Saturday immediately after the Pop Up, having worked a full two weeks! When we have the main centre, we can also utilise the walls more and have better communication tools. I.e., braille, widget tiles, recording devices etc

Fran: I couldn’t agree more.  We would be able to focus on how to support more people, different areas of disability, young adults, elderly, stroke, dementia.  How else can the centre be used, training, therapies etc. The Pop Ups are incredible but setting up for only 2 or 4 weeks can feel so frustrating.  For the staff to have to apologise for not being open all the time is frustrating. Its lovely to know its needed but it’s hard to not be able to offer it permanently to families who have nowhere else that fits all their needs.  For me personally, it would mean everything.  All the hard work from the team will be rewarded.  To offer a space, that is safe, inclusive, and welcoming everyday would be just amazing. To be able to have a place that anyone can go and be included. A place that does offer what it says, a multi-use space, for groups, individuals, and families to all be safe, a birthday party where all friends and family can be included.

When that day comes, just like at the first Pop Up, you will find me hiding round the corner crying with happiness! 

Lucy: Me too!

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