Why families are travelling hundreds of kilometres for a play centre

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Public playgrounds can pose limitless risk to anyone game enough to play on them, not to mention someone living with a disability.

Mum Kerry Phillips knows all too well how dangerous they can be, particularly having three young children, each with varying cognitive and physical conditions.

Her six-year-old son Thomas has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), nine-year-old son Anthony has Down Syndrome, and 13-year-old daughter Harmony has autism and anxiety.

For about a year however, Ms Phillips and hundreds of other parents across the country have - for the first time ever - had access to an all-ages play centre, purpose-built for people with disabilities.

Thomas, 6, Harmony, 13, and Anthony, 9, travel nearly an entire day in the car to get to The Shine Shed. Source: Kerry Phillips

And despite it being about 700 kilometres from her home in Moree, in northern NSW - almost an entire day’s worth of driving - she has driven her three children there and back multiple times.

The Shine Shed in Campbelltown, west of Sydney, has revolutionised play for people living with disabilities, and exhausted parents like Ms Phillips couldn’t be happier.

“It’s given my children the chance to play in a safe and engaging environment, without the fear they would normally have using a normal playground,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Inside the centre, there’s a host of equipment designed specifically with special needs in mind, including a huge foam pit, a flying fox, swings, hammocks and a sensory room.

Thomas, Harmony and Anthony live on a farm in Moree, close to the NSW and QLD border. Source: Kerry Phillips

Owner Lisa Fruhstuck noted a distinct gap in facilities for people with disabilities years ago, and knowing the importance of play in a person’s quality of life, opened the centre about 12 months ago.

“It’s really rewarding, and brings a tear to the eye when parents come up to us say how much they loved the centre and how much it means to them, to have a place they can come with their families,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“That’s what it’s all about, it’s about the families and providing that service to our community.”

Ms Fruhstuck recently employed Stefan Males, a local man with Williams Syndrome, to help with blowing up balloons, DJ’ing special occasions and entertaining visitors.

Ms Phillips said the peace of mind of knowing her children were happy and safe, in a world where they so often weren’t, was priceless.

“I can actually relax because I know they’re not going to injure themselves. And it’s a bonus that they can all play together, which is something they don’t often get to do.”

Lisa Fruhstuck opened The Shine Shed about a year ago after noting a lack of play facilities for people with disabilities. Source: Lisa Fruhstuck

There are 25 people allowed on the equipment at a time, so everyone can be supervised and kept safe.

Ms Phillips said this was a major differentiating factor that set The Shine Shed apart from other centres, which she said didn’t always put a cap on numbers.

She had also enjoyed the pleasure of watching her children not be discriminated against or separated from others - an experience, especially living in the country, that was few and far between.

“They have a place they can feel normal, not that I like to use that word, but they don’t have anyone pointing out their differences there,” she said.

Ms Phillips has made the long journey - sometimes over two days - to The Shine Shed about three times since it opened.

She hoped that accessibility to play centres for people with disabilities did not stop at the Campbelltown centre, and has looked to the government for better support for such facilities.

The Shine Shed features an abundance of safe playing equipment suited for people of all ages and abilities. Source: Kerry Phillips

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