Have you ever dreamt about swimming with dolphins, walking with elephants or even strolling on the moon? VR (Virtual Reality) is an interactive computer-generated experience in a simulated environment, that incorporates mainly auditory and visual stimuli, but VR Therapies have taken it one step further. Imagine seeing and hearing everything you would if you were underwater swimming with dolphins, whilst feeling the water on your skin at the same time.
The brainchild behind this innovative therapy that opened in 2022 as the first VR Therapies centre to open in the UK, is Rebecca Gill.
“I came up with this crazy idea when I was still working as a nurse in 2018. I found out about underwater virtual reality, and it just blew my mind. I thought how amazing this would be if we could combine it with hydrotherapy, so you were receiving the therapeutic benefits whilst swimming with dolphins. I began researching VR in medical journals and academic papers, and the results were inspiring – yet frustrating. There were so many benefits to so many different people and conditions, yet this wasn’t available to the community. I wanted to change that.” – Rebecca Gill, Founder & CEO
A unique and forward-thinking social enterprise, VR Therapies combines the limitless opportunities that VR can offer with supporting health and well-being, with a special focus on those with disabilities and special needs. They work with all ages and abilities, from young children with autism to the elderly with Alzheimer’s and everyone in-between, anyone and everyone is welcome to visit.
They operate from their base in Northampton, where their magical multi-sensory centre features different rooms and activities, including an interactive and immersive sensory room, an activity arcade, wheelchair accessible driving simulators and their world-first combination of hydrotherapy with underwater VR headsets. VR opens a world of possibilities and that’s where the focus is, it’s designed to be fun and enjoyable, with hidden benefits to wellbeing.
They offer individual and group sessions, which can be a one-off session or regular bookings where sessions can be tailored to individual’s needs or interests. Away from their impressive centre, they also offer these sessions out in the community. With a big focus on inclusivity, they have ensured that their experiences cater for a range of disabilities and abilities and kept sessions as affordable as possible.
“Our goal is to bring VR Therapies to those who would benefit most but are least likely to access it.” – Rebecca Gill, Founder & CEO
As a result, one of the biggest challenges has been funding, where Rebecca finds having to limit the impact on people’s wellbeing to money and numbers quite frustrating. This challenge was impacted further at the end of last year when the centre was broken into and damaged and all their equipment stolen. The impact they have on their community and those who visit the centre was evident when individuals rushed to support them through a Crowdfunder campaign, enabling them to reopen just a few weeks later.
Rebecca quoted winning an award at the United Nations as being her proudest moment alongside, being invited to speak at their headquarters but her passion comes through when she speaks about the true accomplishments.
“The biggest success will always be in the community, the impact the sessions have. Bringing light to dark days and seeing people smile again – these moments make everything worthwhile.” Rebecca Gill, Founder & CEO
Looking to the future, VR Therapies are continuing to develop their community outreach service to reach more people and those who are slipping through the gaps of other services. They’re also seeking funding to develop their own apps, which could be used in a range of settings from special schools to families at home. This would mean that not only could their VR headsets take you anywhere, but wherever in the world you are, they can bring the benefits of VR therapies to you.