Motorway service station’s new lease of life

A CHARITY which helps children with disabilities access regular play, exercise, and friendship is set to turn a former motorway service station building into a state-of-the-art leisure centre for disabled children.

Gympanzees has secured £3.3million to but the old Aust Services off the M48 next to the Severn Bridge.

The new centre will be the first of its kind in the UK and the charity expects it to have more than 200,000 a year when it opens in 2026.  

The 14-acre site includes a 43,000 sq ft building with seven acres of green land, woodland and 500 parking spaces.

It is next to the current Severn View services and was previously occupied by insurance company Brightside.

The Bristol-based charity has bought the site with support from Triodos Bank, the Nisbet Trust, Rockcliffe Charitable Trust, the Sunrise Foundation, BOM IT Solutions and individual donors, and was also helped by professionals working on the sale who waived £200,000 worth of fees. 

Until now, Gympanzees has been running ‘pop-up’ events in special schools during the holidays, which have entertained 21,000 visitors over the past five years, with some families making six-hour round trips to take part.

The charity says there are 66,000 disabled children and young adults aged under 25 within an hour’s drive of Bristol, and more than three quarters of them cannot regularly access leisure facilities, with two-thirds of parents saying they feel isolated some or all the time as a result.

It says families who have taken children to the pop-up sessions have seen “incredible health and well-being benefits”, including a 12-year-old girl who slept through the night for the first time in her life after a session.

Others have made new friends for the first time while playing. 

Having secured its new home, the charity is launching a further appeal, named Project Home, to raise £10.8m to refurbish and fit out the services building with ten different specialist exercise and activity rooms and spaces, therapy rooms, exercise studios and a community cafe.

Their ‘Project Home’ appeal aims to raise £8m in phase 1 and a further £2.8m in phase 2.

Founder and chief executive Stephanie Wheen said: “We have achieved this mammoth first step in fundraising and purchased the building – now we need to fit it out and deliver this much-needed centre for disabled children and their families.”  

The Gympanzees centre will be designed to cater for a range of children and young people, from those with severe physical disabilities who require support for all their needs and movements through to children with autism and ADHD who can be incredibly active.   

To find out more or donate to the appeal, visit