Couple behind Reviews.io platform build accessible Christmas cave for poor and disabled children
Hundreds of poor and disabled children and young adults were able to visit Santa’s Cave this year thanks to a business couple.
Callum and Nikki McKeefery said they were inspired to create their own cave by their five-year-old son, Hudson, who has special needs.
They spent tens of thousands of pounds and six months turning a building in Leicester city center into an accessible cave for children and their families who might otherwise miss a visit to see Santa Claus.
So far, around 800 people have visited the cave for free, and that is expected to grow to around 1,000 by its last day on Thursday.
The couple run Reviews.io, which is used by thousands of brands to build customer review scores, and employ around 100 people in their hometown of Leicester.
Callum said the cave – run by volunteers with places pre-booked online – stems from having to ask his uncle to dress up as Santa Claus for Hudson, as taking him to a normal cave would have been too painful.
Nikki, 44 and 27, decided to do it on their own after purchasing a former unit from Dorothy Perkins at Leicester’s Gallowtree Gate when the Arcadia group went bankrupt.
Callum said: “The idea is to give children with special needs and their families a bit of normalcy.
“It’s a completely safe space, so there will be no one to judge the children if they are playing or taking their time to settle down.
“It’s not just caves at Christmas, it’s anywhere – if you have a child who needs extra support, it’s hard to do anything with the family.
“What often goes unnoticed is the fact that children with special needs may take longer to get used to a new environment, so normal caves don’t really work for them.
“After spending a lot of time in line, kids sometimes get in and out within minutes.
“We’re giving Santa the opportunity to spend more time with the kids, which means they can warm up slowly and parents can enjoy the process.
“One of our main goals is to give every visitor a nice photo with Santa Claus – I know how much this will mean for parents.
“Sometimes, maybe for the first time, they will be able to have a festive photo of their child printed and sent to the family.
“They will be able to remember this photo and keep incredible memories.
“Parents love it, there are so many tears of joy that flow from them. They can share a very special time with their child without feeling out of control and sometimes being judged by others.
“And it’s not just about children with special needs, it’s also a treat for their siblings. They might be having rough times themselves, or they might need more help around the house, they deserve to have just half an hour of normalcy.
The couple, who live in the village of Kirby Muxloe, noticed their son’s developmental delay when he was little and spent years trying to get to the bottom of it.
When he was three years old, Hudson was diagnosed with an incurable disease linked to a gene called FDXR (Ferredoxin Reductase), which means he cannot walk, talk or sit.
Callum said: “It was like someone punched me in the stomach. He picked up the wind just below us.
“It was incredibly lonely and all of a sudden it felt like we were being treated differently. To some it was like we were invisible – people didn’t know what to say to us.
“Hudson is just awesome, the happiest little boy and loves life. He is the spark behind the cave.
Hudson officially opened the cave on December 1, and each child has about 15 minutes with Santa – or more, if needed – with the experience personalized to suit their needs.
Callum said: “Seeing their faces light up is what makes it worth it.”
The children leave with gifts purchased either by Callum and Nikki or by the Leicestershire-based Menphys charity, which provides services and activities for children with disabilities.
Callum said seats have been reserved, but cancellations may become available on the website at www.santasinclusiveworkshop.com.