WATERWORLD hosted a special needs event, with dozens of families taking the chance to take youngsters with an array of disabilities into the water.
It was the fourth time the Festival Park waterpark has hosted such an event, with the pool open exclusively to those with disabilities and their families. Waterworld welcomes those with disabilities at all times, but exclusivity means families have easier access to the water and rides, with many travelling from out of the county to enjoy the facilities.
Mark Marshall had travelled from Matlock with wife Kim, 12-year-old daughter Jessica, and son Rhys.
“My daughter has special needs,” explained Mark. “She’s got severe learning difficulties and hasn’t been walking for long – she’s very unsteady on her feet. But she just loves water. It allows her to feel free and splash around. It’s 50 miles, but as soon as Waterworld started doing this we were straight here.
“It can be difficult for us and Jessica in a normal pool environment, whereas at this event everyone understand her behaviour issues. On another night you might get people staring and looking, and that isn’t very nice. You don’t get that here. I don’t know anywhere else that does this.”
Caroline Riley, from Tunstall, was attending the event for the second time, with eight-year-old daughter Sophie who has cerebral palsy.
“On a normal day I could never really contemplate coming here with Sophie,” she explained. “She’s slow getting up the steps so you get people building up behind you. Also, it can be a little overwhelming when it’s busy. We hadn’t come before as a family because of those things, but it was a shame because Sophie loves the water. To come here when it’s reserved for those with additional needs is amazing.”
Paul Bayliss, had travelled from Leicestershire with nine-year-old son Blake, who is profoundly disabled, affected by cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, autism, and profound learning difficulties.
“Blake absolutely loves swimming,” he revealed. “We go every weekend, and he swims in school too. However, due to his disabilities, it is impossible for him to wait in a queue, or go down waterslides by himself so normal sessions are not really an option for us.
“To be able to visit such a wonderful facility as Waterworld, in a relaxed environment, with other disability aware families is wonderful. Normal sessions in a pool are invariably challenging because everyone tends to stare at our son due to his disability and the noise he makes.
“Blake is very brave and goes down the slides with me. It’s so worth it just to hear my son giggling and laughing like a normal child would.
“We also bring our 13-year-old daughter and for her to be able to go and do her own thing for a couple of hours knowing that her brother, who she continually helps to care for, is OK and in a nice environment where he can just be himself, is amazing for her as well.
“It is also wonderful seeing lots of disabled adults having a nice time. So often we fear for what the future holds for Blake when he’s all grown up – where he will go, what he will do – due to the lack of facilities for disabled people these days, and it really gives me hope that there are still places to go which consider disabled people and their families.”
Olympic medal-winning Paralympian canoeist Ian Marsden also attended the event. “To see people with disabilities able to enjoy themselves freely is fantastic,” he said. “All I could see was children with smiles on their faces.”
Waterworld manager Kelly Mountford added: “Once again, it has been a great event, one that makes such a difference to so many. It’s a night that all of us at Waterworld are really proud of. We can’t wait for the next event.”