A WREXHAM schoolboy braved an encounter with some giant creepy crawlies at a summer holiday event raising money for a charity centre which is a lifeline for his brother.
Callum Edwards-Owen met an array of African mini beasts which invaded Eagles Meadow shopping centre in Wrexham as part of a series of free summer school break activities.
He overcame his fears to help raise money and awareness for Dynamic, a Wrexham-based centre for children and young people with disabilities.
The unusual ‘meet and greet’ was part of a four-week programme of family events hosted by Eagles Meadow shopping centre to mark the school summer holidays.
The free events, entitled Passport to Africa, have been launched to coincide with the release of the Disney remake of The Lion King, currently on screens at the shopping centre’s Odeon cinema.
The events are running every Thursday and Friday for four weeks, up to and including Thursday August 15 and Friday August 16, from 11 am to 4 pm.
Visitors to the events, which will include crafts sessions and dance and drumming workshops in the coming weeks, will be transported to the plains of Africa.
The African cultural celebratory activities will culminate in an animal parade through the shopping centre on Friday August 16. Young shoppers will be encouraged to take part with the animal masks and musical instruments they have made at earlier craft sessions.
They are also helping to raise money and awareness of Dynamic, which provides out of school activities and training for children and young people with disabilities, aged between eight and 19.
The charity, which is partially funded by Wrexham Council but still needs to raise around £100,000 a year to stay open, helps youngsters with a range of different disabilities including physical, intellectual or sensory impairments, emotional and behavioural issues or chronic illness.
It currently supports more than 100 young people by holding six weekly after school groups, a Saturday group, activities during school holidays and a major summer programme to support families during the long school break.
There as a Dynamic volunteer at the bug event was 10-year-old Callum whose brother Jake Edwards Owen, 13, is a regular attendee at the charity centre which has its base on the corner of Salisbury Road in Hightown.
Jake has a condition called Angelman Syndrome which affects the nervous system, causing severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Those who have the condition can be easily excitable, have stiff and jerky movements, be restless, have problems sleeping and have a particular fascination with water.
One of the common traits of the disease, which in Jake’s case is hereditary and caused by a mutation of the UBE3A gene, is that many of those affected smile and laugh a lot and, like Jake, are extremely sociable.
His brother Callum said: “It’s great the bugs have come to Eagles Meadow and it’s definitely providing a boost for the fundraising campaign in aid of Dynamic but if I’m really honest, then, no, I don’t like them very much.
“They are a bit scary, too creepy for me. I prefer the African dancing sessions!” he laughed.
Jake and Callum’s mum Helen Edwards, was also out in Eagles Meadow helping with a bucket collection in aid of Dynamic.
Both she and Jake were pleased to see the bug jungle attracting so much interest among shoppers young and old.
Helen said: “Everyone has been having so much fun and there are lots of surprised faces here today. Children and adults have all been intrigued by the bugs. It’s a highlight of the Eagles Meadow summer programme, drawing an enthusiastic crowd which of course provides a big boost to our fundraising and our efforts to raise awareness about the good work of Dynamic.”
Most of the bugs and other captivating small animals on show in the heart of the shopping centre have natural habitats in Africa. Expert keepers Zoe Hartley, 22, and Cara Grimwade, 18, led sessions on behalf of Sam’s Safaris, of Doncaster, which has been successfully running animal workshops around the UK for 19 years.
Zoe studied animal management at college before working for Jersey Zoo, then moving on to Sam’s Safaris. She said the response from fascinated shoppers in Wrexham was hugely positive.
She said: “Naturally we have caused quite a bit of excitement but it’s all been good, with children especially interested in seeing the different bugs and small animals, and asking us lots of intelligent questions.”
Some children even got to carefully handle or touch the different species.
Zoe said: “We only usually have one species out at a time and only for 20 minutes to ensure the animals don’t become stressed.”
Many young shoppers were thrilled to see the different creatures up close.
Owen Lloyd Baines, aged six, of Caego, was thrilled to see the variety of different creatures on display.
“They’re brilliant, especially the stick insects and the lizards,” said the young pupil of Ysgol Penrhyn.
Owen and parents, Emma Baines and Ben Lloyd, are members of Chester Zoo, and Owen would love to be a zoo keeper one day.
He was accompanied to Eagles Meadow by his Nan, Mary Baines.
She said: “He loves animals of all kinds. His dad is Australian so is used to seeing bugs.”
Twin girls Amelie and Freyja Brain, aged nine, of Llanymynech, got the surprise of their lives when they encountered the safari park while out shopping with their mum Debbie and gran Karen.
The two were thrilled at getting the chance to hold Milly, a Giant African Black Millipede with 280 legs.
“It’s was completely amazing,” enthused Amelie, her sister Freyja adding: “So cool.”
Seven year old Borras Park CP school pupil Zach Mellor, seven, had a close up encounter with an Indonesian female stick insect. It was not his first meeting with a stick insect.
He said: “We’ve been raising them in school. Also butterflies which we set free into the wild.”
Other animals at the Eagles Meadow exhibit included a Hermit Crab, Tiger Salamander, Crested Gecko and a Praying Mantis.
Stuart Bellis, Eagles Meadow Centre Operations Manager, said: “It’s been fantastic having these amazing creatures here. Zoe and Cara are so passionate about the wellbeing of the animals in their care and everyone has learned such a lot from them. They have given us all a bug’s eye view of the world for sure.
“We knew the Passport to Africa events would be popular and this is one of the highlights we’ll all remember for a long time.
“Even better news is that it’s also helped give a big push to the fundraising campaign for Dynamic charity, which is a cause we all applaud.”