Progress is well underway to create a community aquarium in Wolverhampton, to help children and adults with special needs such as those who are deaf or blind, or have mental conditions or other issues and disabilities including autism and depression.
The brainchild of father-and-son team Ian and Mike Dixon, who own pet shop HugglePets, their aim is to use animal therapy and initiatives to improve mental health and well-being among children and adults in a first such community project for the city.
The aquarium sets out to be ‘a centre of tranquillity’ as it will be a quiet zone, with low lighting and colours that can calm anxiety and benefit those who suffer from autism. There will be several methods of communication, for example, sign-language videos, to communicate information on the different animals and their environments to as many people as possible.
HugglePets approached CASCO Pet to design and install the aquarium with 100 tanks.
A spokesman for CASCO Pet said: “Fish tanks are interactive and immersive environments, and therefore are often used for therapy rooms. Colourful fish and realistic background graphics create a space that is as close to nature as possible and equally, creates an enjoyable experience.
“The dark units and contrasting dim blue lighting create a tranquil atmosphere that is perfect for people suffering with autism and anxiety. The aquarium space will also be noise free, creating an all-round calming ambience.
“In order to make this a space that is suitable for all the community, it was important for CASCO Pet to design a room that is easy to navigate as well as being easy to access. Everyone should be able to enjoy this room, which is why it is designed with a clear route to walk around the edge of the room. This is designed with wheelchair access in mind and really does cater to everyone.”
Apart from the community aquarium, HugglePets will also offer up to two sensory play classrooms and a community space, and will be open seven days a week. Workshops and classes will include talks about animal welfare, facts on the environment and caring for the planet, along with ‘getting up close with our animals, feeding them, handling them and loving them’.
Speaking earlier to pbwnews, Mike said the whole project has been done with a ‘pragmatic approach to be self sustaining’. He said: “We have tried to put something alongside our business that helps people and gives something back.
“We are a family run business and have been based in our local community for over seven years. I believe through animal-related therapy and educational animal workshops we can help tackle some of the significant issues in society today, including loneliness and improving mental health issues.”