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Students create first ever rhino wheelchair costume for London Marathon

Welsh Wheelchair Rugby League player, Martin Turner will wear the costume at this years 26.2 mile route

Over 150 learners at a South Wales valleys college have teamed up with international conservation charity, Save The Rhino International, to create a the first ever bespoke rhino wheelchair costume that will charge through the London Marathon this April to raise awareness of rhino conservation across the world, improve their skills in a unique practical project, and promote accessibility in endurance events.

Coleg y Cymoedd learners from Creative, Engineering and Vocational departments, alongside members of staff, have been working with famous TV puppeteer William Todd-Jones (‘Todd’)– the brains behind fantastical creations from shows such as His Dark Materials, Harry Potter and Batman – to create a distinctive wheelchair adapted costume that will be worn by seasoned Welsh Wheelchair Rugby League player, Martin Turner, on the famous 26.2-mile route this month.

Over the last eight months, the team of learners have been busy creating the wheelchair costume from scratch while restoring and modifying nine costumes including one which was worn by Todd at the London marathon 32 years ago, shortly before Save the Rhino International was first formally established in 1994. The nine costumes that were stripped down and repaired have been worn in marathons and for extreme sports events across the world ever since.

Todd has collaborated with Coleg y Cymoedd on a number of creative and environmental based projects in the past. His connection with Save the Rhino International alongside their 30th anniversary seemed the perfect opportunity to design, develop and construct the world’s first rhino-costumed wheelchair for the London Marathon.

One of the biggest cross-department projects the college has ever undertaken, the experience has given learners a unique opportunity to support an important cause while putting their practical skills to the test alongside one of the industry’s leading professionals.

Over 150 learners at Coleg y Cymoedd helped to construct the first ever rhino wheelchair costume

Learners have worked closely with Martin and his WRL teammates over the course of several workshops to construct a new costume and ensure it meets the challenges of the marathon course, while prioritising safety and accessibility for him.

Alongside Martin, there will be 18 members of Save the Rhino’s team participating in the London Marathon in rhino costume.  One learner taking part in the Rhino restoration project is Ray Munro, who is currently studying Arts and Media at the college.

They said: “Working on this project has been an extremely insightful look into the prop industry and we learnt multiple techniques in an encouraging, positive and hands-on environment. During the time working on the project, we learnt not only about costume construction but also about rhino conservation and the work of Save the Rhino International and it felt good to know I was contributing even in a small part to their effort. The opportunity to be a part of this project is definitely something I will cherish always, and I look forward to seeing the rhinos in the London marathon.”

Alistair Aston, course leader and creative industries co-ordinator at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “It has been an honour to join forces with Save the Rhino, bringing new life to their iconic costumes and we’re thrilled to have played a part in spreading Save the Rhino International’s message, inspiring action for conservation and inclusivity.

“Many of the learners who have taken part in the construction of the new rhino costume, alongside the re-modelling of the old are entry level access learners, who have historically had very little opportunity to take part in such a unique and worthwhile project. The opportunities presented by the Rhino project extend far beyond skill acquisition; it’s been a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves, to contribute meaningfully to the preservation of wildlife. Through their involvement, they’ve not only gained practical experience but also a deeper understanding of environmental conservation and the importance of community engagement.”

Save the Rhino International was formally established as a UK charity in 1994, with the vision for all five rhino species to thrive in the wild. The money raised during the marathon will go towards the conservation of endangered rhinos in Africa and Asia. The project has evolved in close collaboration with South Wales Valleys based Orangebox, the international smart-working furniture company, Mark3D industrial 3D printers, and Motivation, an international disability inclusion charity and social enterprise that supplied the wheelchair for the costume.

Jo Shaw, CEO of Save the Rhino International, added: “Since 1992, the London Marathon has been a crucial event for Save the Rhino, raising more than £2 million and, crucially, highlighting the importance of rhino conservation to new audiences on a world stage. Through events like this and with the help of institutions like Coleg y Cymoedd, we can continue to achieve significant milestones in rhino conservation and bring more people together to make a positive difference for our world.”

Speaking about the experience, Martin Turner commented: “I’m nervous, of course, but also really excited by the challenge and grateful to have the chance to promote accessibility in sport through such a unique and iconic endeavour.”