It’s a world-first business idea that will see hydrotherapy pools and underwater virtual reality (VR) headsets combined together to allow people to feel like they are truly swimming with dolphins. VR therapies is a unique social enterprise dedicated to utilising virtual reality (VR) and immersive tech for children with special needs and adults with disabilities. “We take those too poorly to walk swimming with dolphins, children undergoing chemotherapy flying through space, people with dementia down memory lane and so much more”. The headsets will allow wearers to see dolphins swimming around them whilst in the hydrotherapy pool, creating an incredible experience and ticking the bucket list off for many.
From specialist equipment designed in-house, people will be able to access experiences they never dreamed were possible. Their centre will provide a range of multisensory and immersive experiences not just limited to the water; people can race around Silverstone in wheelchair adapted driving seats, fly through space and walk on the moon, or simply relax on their own private beach and escape the real world.
Learning disabilities nurse Rebecca Gill was gearing up to launch her company, VR Therapies, in Northampton, last year. However, after Covid-19 hit the business hard, their last hope is a new crowdfunding campaign. With only 2 months before they face bankruptcy and making all staff redundant, they are hoping the local community will help save them. Launching today and hoping to raise £65k, this will cover the salaries for 3 VR therapists, the rent needed for their centre, as well as provide specialist equipment for children with special needs. Donations made will be rewarded with chances to win a range of goodies, from VR headsets to vouchers on sessions at the centre, as well as a “healthy dose of good karma” according to Rebecca. There are also sponsorship deals available for businesses and free advertisement via their “Hall of Fame”.
Despite the mega-bucks available to companies like Oculus and Samsung, Rebecca was determined to start a social enterprise instead and struggled as a nurse to get the initial funding. She has slowly built it from the ground-up, benefiting her previous patients, local charities and families with children with special needs. After spending thousands on renovating their centre and building specialist disabled facilities, they were unable to open when the pandemic hit. With no income, bills and debts started to pile up. Now they have no money left to open. “We will no longer be able to help people with VR therapy and very soon we’ll be forced to go bankrupt. We never had a chance to open the doors or even fill the pools.”, says Rebecca. Now the lockdown has lifted, VR therapies is hoping to raise the money needed to finally open their doors.
“One of the things that has kept coming up in my career is hydrotherapy and the lack of it in Northampton,” Rebecca explained. “Traditional therapies are really difficult to access, despite the benefits. With physio, there’s a very long waiting list, you’ve got to go private and it’s costly so most people can’t afford it. But here we can combine physiotherapy with immersive experiences, allowing the community to take control of their health in a fun way.” “The people that would benefit the most from these are the people least likely able to access it. We want to change this.”
A wealth of studies has shown the benefits of hydrotherapy as well as swimming with dolphins, but the benefits have never been combined… till now!
Rebecca has also used VR to benefit local residents with dementia and has worked across the county with Age UK, showing amazing results. Ticking off bucket lists is already an obvious one – no longer restricted by physical boundaries people can teleport anywhere in the world, enabling them to do and see things they’ve only dreamed of. Health benefits include reducing chronic pain and alleviating anxiety, or as Rebecca has found, “people smile more, breathe easier and feel less pain”, which she shared when she was invited to speak at the United Nations last year. “The international support has been incredible”
Aside from the hydro-pools, there will be activity rooms and sensory rooms providing immersive experiences which heighten all of our senses, from smells and sounds to sight and touch. Sensory rooms have been a stable addition to any special needs school but they are rarely available to the public, let alone provide the immersive technology available at VR therapies. “My background is learning disabilities,” Rebecca added. “All of my work has been learning disabilities, brain injuries, autism and everything neurological. Everything is designed in mind for people with disabilities and of all ages and abilities but everyone is welcome. It’s for the community and I want everyone to come and have a go.”
The new crowdfunding campaign is their last hope after being declined loans from both banks and government support. Without any income during the lockdown period, they were unable to demonstrate the “profitability” required for government backed “recovery loans”, despite this lack of income directly being due to government imposed lockdowns. In the business world it all comes down to accounts, but this often ignores the great work done by charities and social enterprises.
Contact – Rebecca Gill
Photos available for us at vrtherapies.co.uk/gallery