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"Dreamnight At The Zoo" at Cotswold Wildlife Park

Photo credit: Beth Peacock

A night full of memories: "Dreamnight At The Zoo" at Cotswold Wildlife Park

Cotswold Wildlife Park quietly opened its doors for a very special evening on Friday 7 June 2024.

For the ninth time, the Park hosted  “Dreamnight At The Zoo” - an invitation-only event for chronically ill and disabled children and their families to exclusively enjoy the wildlife park after hours. Cotswold Wildlife Park joined over two hundred zoos and aquariums, from eleven different countries, for the global event that makes dreams come true for some truly deserving guests.

Eighty families were invited from Oxfordshire charity 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, herb planting with the Park’s gardeners, games and the chance to meet beautiful birds of prey from 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. His dream was to organise a free evening out at the zoo exclusively for children with cancer. 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 honoured to be part of.

 An Owl from Cotswold Falconry Centre - Photo: Rebecca Farrow

Richard Crowley, Chairman of Swindon based CALM Charity said:  "Our families were delighted to be invited to the special “Dreamnight at the Zoo” event and were made to feel like VIPs. Children with cancer often miss out on taking part in activities that other children take for granted. It was a magical evening with a chance to get closer to the animals and meet the amazing keepers who look after them too. Highlights included feeding the Giraffes and getting up close with the Lemurs.  A huge thank you to all the team at the Cotswold Wildlife Park for inviting us and making us feel so welcome".

Charity Manager at James Hopkins Trust, Sarah Nash, commented: "At James Hopkins Trust we provide nursing respite care to children in Gloucestershire with life-threatening or life limiting illnesses. The children we support can not always access or can find it difficult to take part in everyday activities such as visiting a wildlife park and that’s what makes this such a unique and priceless experience for them. One of our key aims at James Hopkins Trust is to help the families that we support to ‘make magic memories’ and the opportunity for them to attend the magical “Dreamnight at the Zoo” event is such an amazing way for them to do just that.  We are truly honoured to be invited and can not thank Cotswold Wildlife Park enough for welcoming our families and providing this special VIP experience for them".

Helen Hitchman, event organiser and Education and Activities Manager at Cotswold Wildlife Park, added: “It’s always an absolute pleasure to host this special evening for the incredible children and their families. “Dreamnight At The Zoo” is a highlight of the year at Cotswold Wildlife Park. Staff and our volunteers give up their time generously to make sure everyone has a wonderful time. A special thanks to Cotswold Falconry Centre for supporting us year after year. The games, animal talks, planting, train rides and all the other activities make the evening so special. Seeing all the smiling faces around the Park makes everything worthwhile and everyone involved is so elated at being able to create such a fun night. A special thank you must go to the charities for all the wonderful work they do and for making sure as many families as possible can attend “Dreamnight At The Zoo”.

Committed to accessibility
In 2017, Cotswold Wildlife Park became the first major attraction in Oxfordshire to install a Changing Places toilet and hoist room. In the last five years, with an investment of over £500,000, it has continued to improve accessibility with the installation of resin pathways throughout the Park. There is easy wheelchair access to all enclosures, the Gift Shop, Oak Tree Restaurant and on to the narrow-gauge railway. The Park has ensured all enclosures with windows are viewable from a wheelchair or mobility scooter and there are ramps to access the Giraffe house, Wolverine enclosure and Waterfowl lake area.

Explore Gloucestershire
10 June 2024

Top photo credit: Beth Peacock

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