Cotswold Wildlife Park holds 'Dreamnight at the Zoo' event for chronically ill and disabled children

By Jessica Durston - 14 June 2022

  • Image credit - Rebecca Louise

    Image credit - Rebecca Louise

The Cotswold Wildlife Park held an invitation-only event for chronically ill and disabled children and their families to enjoy the park after hours.

Image credit - Rebecca Louise

The Dreamnight at the Zoo event was held on Friday 10 June, and 80 families were welcomed into the park. 

The families attending were those supported by a number of different children's charities, including Helen & Douglas House (providing hospice care for terminally ill children and young adults), Rainbow Trust (supporting families with a seriously ill child), ROSY (Respite Nursing for Oxfordshire’s Sick Youngsters), CALM (Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Movement), James Hopkins Trust (providing nursing respite care for Gloucestershire’s life limited and life threatened young children) and WellChild (giving seriously ill children the best chance to thrive).

As well as the rare opportunity to see the animals at night when the Park is normally closed to visitors, keepers and staff volunteered to make the evening one to remember with some unforgettable animal encounters with the Lemurs, Giraffes and Penguins.

Their night of activities continued with train rides on the Park’s narrow-gauge railway, refreshments, face painting, herb planting with the Park’s gardeners, games, juggling and the chance to meet birds of prey from the Cotswold Falconry Centre.

“Dreamnight At The Zoo” was the brainchild of zoo keeper Peter van der Wulp. Back in 1996, Peter went to the Director of Rotterdam Zoo with a special request.

Staff say his dream was to organise a free evening out at the zoo exclusively for children with cancer. The Cotswold team added that Peter wanted it to be a joyous night for the whole family to enjoy and relax, without the worry of being treated differently. “Dreamnight At The Zoo” has since become an annual worldwide event which Cotswold Wildlife Park is thrilled to be part of.

Catherine Davies, Family Engagement Manager at WellChild, said: “We would like to thank Cotswold Wildlife Park for all their time, hard work and generosity. “Dreamnight at the Zoo” is a magical evening where families get a VIP experience. Everyone is smiling, laughing and making memories that will last a lifetime.

"This is particularly important to the children and families WellChild supports because the past couple of years have been extremely difficult for families whose children are seriously ill or have complex needs. Covid forced these families to shield in their homes away from friends and family, impacting on mental health and isolating them further”.

Helen Hitchman, event organiser and Education and Activities Manager at Cotswold Wildlife Park, said: “Our first “Dreamnight at the Zoo” since 2019 was a huge success. Hosting this special evening for such incredible children and their families is a highlight of the year. Cotswold Wildlife Park staff and other volunteers give up their time generously to make sure everyone has a wonderful time.

"A special thanks to Fey Faces and Cotswold Falconry Centre for supporting this event year after year. All the extra little activities make the evening really special. It’s an absolute pleasure to see all the smiling faces around the Park. Everyone involved gets such a buzz at being able to help the children have some fun. I would also like to thank the charities for all the wonderful work they do and for making sure as many families as possible can attend the event”.

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