Gympanzees story

By Sported |  25th January 2021

Gympanzees is one of the 2,600 community groups that are part of Sported’s network. Through the use of fully-inclusive, easily-accessible leisure facilities, Gympanzees’ aim is that every disabled child and young person in the UK can enjoy a life filled with exercise, play and friendship.

Here Lucy, Project Manager at Gympanzees, explains how they set up a lending library to continue supporting parents and disabled children during the pandemic, the impact this has had on families, and her hopes for the future.

Prior to the pandemic, Gympanzees had been busy preparing their pop-up events where children and young people with disabilities and their whole family could access play, exercise and friendship opportunities. These events had inclusive play areas, active and calming sensory rooms, therapy suites, specialised gym equipment, trampolines and indoor and outdoor play, but the arrival of Covid-19 meant they all had to be put on hold. (Gympanzees are planning to run their pop-up events again, in Summer 2021.)

Gymanzee Sported Members

The team at Gympanzees quickly realised that they needed to find a way to keep supporting families and disabled children. They came up with the idea of ‘Our Home’ – which brings together an online resource hub, therapy webinars led by specialist therapists and a lending library, where Gympanzees loan equipment, such as vibrating mats, fibre optic lights, soft play equipment and shapes and blocks to families for a period of two weeks. The loans allow children to benefit from using sensory toys in the comfort and safety of their own home, helping with their development and encouraging movement.

The lending library has had a huge impact, bringing families closer together and creating shared experiences. For many, it is the first time that siblings have been able to play together, rather than needing to use separate equipment designed specifically for a disabled child. Parents are also more relaxed, knowing their children are happily playing in the safety of their own home. They’ve fed back that their children are calmer and sleeping better, which has a positive effect on the rest of the family. The lending library has also given disabled children more control over their lives – with the equipment at home, they can choose when and how they use it.

Lucy adds:

“Many of the toys that we loan families are those that children can use on their own. This not only helps teach them independence but gives parents a much-needed break. One mum told me that her child had enjoyed many hours of entertainment on a rocking horse during the two-week loan. She could see that he was so happy and it meant that she could enjoy many well-deserved cups of tea in peace!”

-Lucy, Project Manager at Gympanzees

When asked what the last few months has taught her, Lucy explains: “The silver lining of the pandemic, if there is such a thing, has been that we’ve realised just how much the lending library is needed. We know that some families can’t go out on a daily basis as their children have low immune systems, so being able to hire equipment to take home is a lifeline for them. We’re planning on including lending libraries in our leisure facilities, once these re-open. In the meantime, we’re looking to increase the number of items available to loan to 250.”

So, how does a small community group like Gympanzees manage to support thousands of families across Bristol and the surrounding areas?

Lucy explains: 

“Volunteers play a crucial role at Gympanzees and I absolutely couldn’t do it without them. At the start of the pandemic, I was basically going out every day, all day, in my car, covering miles and miles. Now, thanks to our volunteers, I can plan ahead more, give the lending library more focus, reach further afield and support even more families. We’re now able to offer four times more than we would have!”

-Lucy, Project Manager at Gympanzees

Lucy is incredibly passionate about Gympanzees’ work. There are one million disabled children and young people in the UK. A huge proportion of families with a disabled child can’t access regular leisure activities, which impacts their health and well-being.

Lucy explains: “Every young disabled person deserves the chance to take part in recreational activities. Far too many end up missing out on vital experiences and their parents feeling isolated at home, simply because many places are not geared-up to cater for all of their needs. I’m proud that the work we’re doing is having such a positive effect on disabled children and their families. Hearing from families over the last few months about the benefits of the lending library has been truly heart-warming. Being involved with Gympanzees has been absolutely life-changing. It fills my heart to see the difference I’m making to children’s lives.”


Sported has been supporting Gympanzees over the last two years. The free mentoring they have received has included help with formalising Gympanzees’ business plan and support with their governance structure. Sported has also provided them with fundraising webinars and information on grants – vital support that helps groups survive and thrive for the long term.

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