AT THE end of the cul de sac which runs parallel to the side of the Aldi outlet on Dublin Road, the nose cone of an aeroplane lies on its side.
Thankfully, it hasn’t come from the skies overhead. Instead, it is one segment of a fantastical jigsaw puzzle – the pieces of which are being slotted into place by a team of Italians inside a huge warehouse at the Park Point complex.
“They are the design people. They design for Disney and all these places. They said there is nothing like this in Europe – that nobody has ever tried to bring disabled and able-bodied kids together under the one roof,” shouts Shay Kinsella above the noise of drill drivers and saws.
A lift truck carries materials from one end of the warehouse to the other while wooden beams on the aeroplane’s fuselage are beaten into place.
The predominant colour in the room is grey – a towering treehouse with turret and a big yellow duck, the only hint of what is soon to become of this dusty building site.
“This is a huge story for Limerick,” Shay continues. “This is going to expand, expand and expand. We are going to do weekends away. This is going to be like a film studio. If a child is terminally ill now they don’t have to go to Disneyland anymore – they can come to Limerick.”
Shay, the founder of Share a Dream foundation – which grants sick children their all-time favourite magical wishes – had a dream four ago to design the very first all-inclusive and accessible indoor play centre in Ireland. Its name? Dreamland. It’s aim? To enable children to feel the magic of Disneyland without having to travel thousands of miles for the experience.
“They are all Italian from a company called Global Attractions,” says Shay, casting a glance around the room at the workmen. “They operate out of Milan and they are the people who manufacture the dream.
“They got into my mind asking, ‘what do you want to do?’, and then they come up with the product.”
“Visit any playground or play centre in Ireland and you will see the total lack of inclusive play opportunities available to disabled children to play; it is non-existent,” says Shay. “Thousands of disabled children with multiple needs are denied the right to play because the many barriers they have to face make it impossible to have fun with their siblings and friends.
“Take a young mother with three children – a disabled child and two able-bodied children. They want to go on a day’s outing – where do they go? There is nowhere to bring a disabled child. Playgrounds are non-existent. There is nothing for a disabled child.”
There are 80,000 disabled children in Ireland and, according to Shay, many of them have never been inside a playground “because they are afraid of their life that they would be bullied.”
At Dreamland they can all come together.
Dreamland is designed to reflect a child’s idea of a magical place, the kind they only find in books or their wonderful imagination.
It will be complete with a number of themed areas including three themed party rooms where the child can live out a dream of their choice; a supermarket where they will learn the basics of buying and selling; and an aeroplane room where they get to fulfil the duty of a pilot or a flight attendant.
“Up there, there is going to be The Dream Factory,” says Shay, pointing overhead. “We are going to do music therapy, dance therapy – all the things that they thought disabled children cannot do – of course they can, we just have to think a little different.”
The party rooms he says are “phenomenal”.
“I have just finished designing them but they are almost ready. We have three party rooms up on top – which will have three different themes: A princess room, Jurassic Park and Sea World. In Sea World it is all fish and three-dimensional. They will hear the water and think they are in a bubble. If you want to come with your group and want to be a princess you can enjoy the whole thing down here and then go up to the party room for one hell of a party.”
The hope of Dreamland is that no child sick or disabled will feel different to other children. During their visit their playful surroundings will help them to forget about their painful treatments, hospitalisations, lonely times, disappointments and fears.
Here they will laugh and forge friendships while making sacks full of happy memories.
A sensory room will provide the ideal getaway for the child who wants some peace and quiet.
There will also be a room for a terminally ill child who is unable to mix with the other children. “It is surrounded by glass so he or she will be able to view everything. For the parents, that is unbelievable,” continues Shay pointing to where the room will be located overhead.
The venue will also give third level students the opportunity to gain experience in areas such as childminding and nursing.
At a cost of €1.6 million, the project hasn’t come cheap – according to Shay another €75,000 is needed to finish it.
“If everyone in Limerick gives a euro…” he says, hopefully.
“I’ve been working on this for years. It should have only taken a year. People didn’t believe it,” he explains of the reaction when he first mooted his vision.
He is now less than two months from seeing his dream become a reality.
“We are hoping to have it done in early September. When I started off I had €1,027 – that’s what I had, and a dream!”
“Ciara [Ciara Brolly, projects manager, Share a Dream Foundation] and myself are the only ones who work with Share a Dream Foundation and we help about 1,200 kids a year.”
Since it was founded 25 years ago over 25,000 children and their families have experienced the Share a Dream magic.
“We have loads of volunteers,” Ciara interjects.
“Yes, we have loads of volunteers,” Shay agrees, “but I’m just saying when you are talking about where all the money goes to a charity – that’s what we do.
“So far it’s costing us about €1.6 million. I need money to run it as well until I get it up and running. Now, it’s going to be hopefully self-supporting. The able-bodied children, like when they go to any special place, they will pay to go into it but the disabled children and sick children will have free entry.
“People are brilliant. If we help a kid, people come back and do something.”
The JP McManus Foundation, the HSE and the Department of Children have also given some financial support towards the project.
People hoping to use the facility won’t be able to walk in off the street to use it. Instead,they can book online.
“Parents have been contacting me from all over Ireland saying, ‘For the first time ever I will be able to bring all my children to some place like this’. And it’s in Limerick.”
This article originally appeared in the Limerick Leader.