Shropshire seven-year-old overcomes severe arachnophobia thanks to giant spiders...
A Shropshire schoolboy who had such severe arachnophobia he would not stay in a room if he saw a spider’s web, has been cured thanks to a special birthday party and a giant helping of school spirit.
Samuel Barr-Ellis, who is a pupil in Year 2 at Bellan House in Oswestry, asked his parents for an exotic animal party, for his seventh birthday, with as many large spiders as possible.
He wanted the party simply because he was determined to overcome his fear of spiders, having taken on board the school values of courage and resilience.
Samuel’s mum, Jo Barr, who lives with the family in Llanfechain, Powys, said she and her husband Rob Ellis, were quick to point out to their son, his party could be terrifying for him.
But Samuel was adamant it was something he wanted to do, as some of his friends, who are also his classmates, had similar fears and he hoped the party would help them too.
Jo said: "As the person who was traditionally called in to check for and remove any spiders or webs before Samuel uses the bathroom, I know he had a very genuine fear - so the party request was not at all what I expected.
"He has always loved animals but he’s had a long-standing fear of spiders which we have never been able to help him get over but he assured us he knew what he was doing asking for the party, as school had taught him about resilience and courage and he thought it would be a great chance to show those and learn about exotic animals too."
Wanting to ensure Samuel had a positive experience and finding someone who put education and animal welfare at the centre of what they do, Jo booked Simon Airey who runs Shrewsbury based Corner Exotics for the party which took place afterschool in a private room at The Townhouse in Oswestry on 20 January 2023.
At the party, Samuel and his classmates were able to meet, learn about and handle a wide range of insects, reptiles and mammals ranging from a Chinchilla to large snakes and when it came to holding some very large spiders the newly turned 7-year-old was first in line.
Jo said: "When it was time for Simon to bring out the first spider, I was thinking I hope this wasn’t a mistake, but Samuel agreed to hold it and he looked surprisingly comfortable – we were just so proud of him."
Throughout the party, Simon explained to the children and their parents that people of all ages, have fears of things such as snakes and spiders but we are not born afraid of them, the fear is inadvertently learnt and by finding out more about these wonderful creatures, many of which are endangered, we can unlearn the fear.
Jo added: "Seeing a little boy who was so scared on spiders holding a tarantula and encouraging his friends to do the same was just wonderful. After the party was over, a I asked him how he managed to be so brave he said simple Mummy, I just remembered the importance of courage and resilience like we learn at school and also a technique we were taught to help us deal with emotions we don’t want.
"I imagined my fear of spiders was a balloon and I just released it into the air and said fear I don’t need you anymore as I waved it goodbye."
Bellan House Headteacher, Claire Belk said: "Our school moto is that we learn not for school but for life and I think what Samuel chose to do was an excellent example of this.
“It does not surprise me Samuel wanted to have his entire class at his birthday party as they are all good friends and I loved hearing how the values that we bring alive in school were shown to be understood so well beyond the school gate and indeed whilst having so much fun!"
Jo added: "Samuel is in a class with so many kind and supportive children and parents and I was amazed by how engaged they all were with the animals as they stood holding giant snakes as though it was just something you do.
"Simon was just brilliant, as the party was both educational and fun but the fact, we were hosting it in the first place was down to Bellan House and the ethos of the whole school."
Bellan House is a part of Oswestry School, for pupils aged 4 to 18. Oswestry school, which was established in 1409 is a registered charity number 1079822.