Mental Health matters

We all know that it’s important to look after our physical health, but many of us forget to look after our mental health too.

It’s believed that people with learning disabilities are more likely to experience mental health problems than those without learning disabilities. 

Research suggests the rate of mental health problems in people with a learning disability is double that of the general population (Cooper, 2007; Emerson & Hatton, 2007; NICE, 2016).

What is mental health?
‘Mental health’ is how we feel. We can feel happy, sad, scared, worried or depressed. These are all feelings to describe our mental health. 

It’s normal to feel happy on some days and sad other days.  If someone has lots of sad or unhappy days, they might need some help to feel happy again.

This is why it is so important that we know how to look after our mental health, and what to do if we need some help.

What’s the weather got to do with it?
In a Sunny Sessions interview with Vicky from Mind in Kingston earlier this week, she described mental health as an internal weather system. 

In the morning, do you wake up feeling sunny, or stormy, or perhaps cloudy and grey? If you feel cloudy and grey most mornings, this might mean you need some help to feel sunny again. 

If you have lots of cloudy and grey days, you might be suffering from depression. This video explains what depression is

How can I help myself feel better?
In her interview, Vicky shared some great tips to help us look after our mental health: 

  • Get some fresh air and keep active
  • Connect with friends or family. Perhaps a phone call or meet for a cup of tea
  • Eat well and include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
  • Treat yourself to things that make you happy. For example, listen to your favourite music, have your favourite sandwich for lunch or watch your favourite show

Why not try and include some of these tips into your everyday routine and see if they help you to wake up feeling sunny in the mornings.

Still feeling low?
If you are struggling to feel happy, there are lots of people and organisations who are there to help.

How can I support someone with a learning disability?
It is important not to dismiss someone’s feelings as simply being part of their disability. While it’s true that someone with a learning disability is more likely to experience mental health issues, it is not part of their learning disability and needs to be treated appropriately.

When supporting someone with complex needs, try using emojis – happy and sad faces to support them to express how they feel.  For people with learning disabilities who can communicate through words, perhaps try the weather example above.

Epsom Mental Health and Wellbeing Festival
Local mental health charity, Love Me Love My Mind, are running their annual festival on 9th – 16th October 2021. 

The theme is ‘We are all in this together’, with talks and discussions on a wide range of topics from feeling anger and fear to nutrition, immunity and mental health. 

Take a look at the Love Me Love My Mind schedule of events here.

In 2019, Sunnybank’s drama group, The Happy Kings and Queens, filmed a short film as part of Epsom’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Festival. Watch it here.

Life can be stressful and busy and can sometimes feel too much, so it’s very important that we’re kind to ourselves and look after our own wellbeing. 

My year at Sunnybank

Blog by Jon Andrews, Sunny Sessions Presenter and Producer

As I mark my first year at Sunnybank, it’s been good to look back at my journey so far.

I joined The Sunnybank Trust in October 2020 and found it was a perfect way to bring together my experience of working with people with learning disabilities and my long-term work in community radio. 

I love my job and it’s been a very interesting year, a roller-coaster ride of fun, laughter and also a sense of  pride in what we have achieved with our Sunny Sessions radio show.

The Sunny Sessions show has grown with very encouraging listening figures. I’ve had lots of support from my Sunnybank colleagues and other local organisations who have been involved in the show. 

It has been a lifeline for our members who have used it as a way to stay connected during lockdown and really enjoyed contributing and getting involved. There are so many benefits for people with learning disabilities being involved with radio and the work on the Sunny Sessions really showcases this. 

Some personal highlights over the last year are the Sunny Sessions takeover shows where members were given the opportunity to present a show with support from me. I am proud to have been able to give a voice to people with learning disabilities and support them to conduct interviews with local organisations, helping them to feel part of their local area.  

We also had a brilliant Christmas special with Sunnybank member Martin and I chatting to 80’s legends Suzi Quattro and Limahl.

It’s very powerful to take a topic and hear our members and listeners share their thoughts on it. Some stories are emotional and some make us smile, but all are so important to include in the show.

It is, as I call it, the Happiest Hour On The Radio and it makes me happy to be here to produce the show and celebrate what can be achieved  through the power of the wireless.

Thank you to everybody who has listened to or got involved in the Sunny Sessions over the last year, you are all amazing!

You can listen to Sunny Sessions every Monday and Thursday at 11am on www.surreyhillsradio.co.uk

We are pleased to launch Sunny Sessions Extra on the first Monday of every month at 9pm, an extra helping of our greatest stories and music.

#BreakingBarriers to accessing eye care

This week is National Eye Health week, a time to raise awareness of the importance of good eye health.

Adults with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to suffer from serious eye conditions than the general population. This means it is even more important for anyone with a learning disability to have regular eye checks and to take preventative steps to keep eyes healthy.

For anyone with complex medical issues, eye health is often overlooked. Regardless of general health, everyone should and can have access to regular eye checks. Eye checks are used to look at eye sight, and can also be helpful in diagnosing other health issues.

Should I have an eye check?

Yes. Everyone should have an eye test every two years with an optician (eye doctor). Some people with learning disabilities might need eye checks more often.

When booking an appointment with your local optician, let them know of any adjustments needed to support you during your appointment.

If you don’t already have an optician, the helpful link below shows opticians close to where you live, and the support they can offer to someone with a learning disability.

Find your nearest optician here.

What happens during an eye test?

Here is a video that explains what happens during an eye test.

Wearing glasses

After your eye test, you may be told that you need to wear glasses. Glasses will help you to see more clearly.

Here are some top tips for wearing glasses.

If you support someone who has been prescribed glasses, this factsheet gives practical advice on how to give support and detect any potential issues.

Spotting sight issues in others

If you support someone with a learning disability, it might not always be obvious if they are having problems with their sight or eye health. Things to look out for that might signal poor eye sight:

  • Holding objects close to their face
  • Unusual head movements or shaking their head from side to side
  • Dislike of bright light, low light or both
  • Increase in falls, trips or knocks to the body
  • Requiring more support when in new environments
  • Searching for objects with their hands or knocking over items
  • Changes to the eye e.g. redness, swelling or discharge

If you spot any of these signs, it is important to book an appointment with an optician.

I’m an optician. What support can I give patients with learning disabilities?

The most important thing to remember when examining a patient with learning disabilities is to explain what you are going to do in a clear and calm manner, making sure that they are comfortable before going ahead. You may need to use hand gestures or images to support your patient’s understanding.

RNIB have shared their top tips for optometrists treating patients with learning disabilities.

Difficult words explained

When talking about eye health, some difficult words might be used. Here we explain them:

  • Optician – eye doctor
  • Optometrist – another word for eye doctor
  • Vision – how well you can see
  • Cataract – when your eye looks a bit cloudy and your eye sight becomes blurry
  • Glaucoma – a disease that affects how well you can see
  • Long-sighted – when you find it hard to see things close to you
  • Short-sighted – when you find it hard to see things far away from you

Keeping busy

A blog by Emily

I am Emily, a Sunnybank Trust ambassador. 

It has been a funny year, with so many months coming in and out of lockdown.

The Sunnybank Trust have been busy running several different zoom meetings. This has kept us busy and given us things to do to help us get through the lockdowns. 

Lately we have been meeting up face to face again. We have cage cricket, run by Neil and Claire. This is sponsored by the Lords Taverners. In the coming months we are doing a first aid course, we’ll also be making T-shirts with our logo.Then we hope to play some cricket matches when it is safe to do so. 

We have coffee and chat in Alexandra Park, weather permitting. We have started a wellbeing gardening course at the Sunnybank allotment, followed by an Arts and Crafts session.

The Futures group have meetings called ‘everyone’s talking about it’ and ’catch up’ both on zoom. We go to the virtual pub every Friday evening for a quiz.

To find out more about our activities, and how to get involved, visit our website.

Wonderful Wisley

On 24th August, members of The Sunnybank Trust met with the team from RHS Wisley for a workshop at Wisley’s fabulous new Hill Top Centre. 

With the beautiful gardens in the background, the day provided a great learning opportunity for both Sunnybank members and the Wisley team.

Whilst the Sunnybank members enjoyed learning about a wide range of plants, the Wisley team had the opportunity to find out more from us about learning disabilities and how to provide a great experience for people with hidden disabilities such as learning disabilities.

Sunnybank member Emily shares her thoughts on the day:

“RHS Wisley asked if some Sunnybank members would like to try out their new Education Centre with activities specifically designed for people with a learning disability/autism. 

We were also given free tickets for carers and parents who were bringing members to the activity. We all went into their new Education centre, to a room reserved just for us to use. 

Firstly, we went outside to look at their vegetables. As anyone who has been out with Sunnybank, and the staff who come along, we like to join in!

As you can see in the pictures below, Faith and Dorothy picked up some great ideas for the Sunnybank allotment and we learnt a lot about gardening. 

As we had our lunch, Sunnybank staff member Jon, kept working by interviewing Wisley staff. After lunch we had a look around the Gardens. Then we split into 2 groups and did feedback and visited the centre. This time it was Claire and I who came up with ideas for the allotment.”

Futures Manager, Claire Dawson, comments on the day, “What was so good about the day is that everyone involved got to learn something new from each other. I am looking forward to putting all the ideas everyone had into action and tasting some of the results.”

Living in an inaccessible world – Matt’s story

Friend of Sunnybank, Matt, shared his accessibility story with us in a recent Sunny Sessions radio interview.

Born with Cerebral Palsy, Matt lives with vision impairment, dyslexia and a curvature of the spine.

Matt’s disabilities mean that he is unable to leave the house without the assistance of family, friends or his Personal Assistant.

DJ Jon recently recorded an interview with Matt whilst walking around his local area. Matt shared first hand the challenges he faces on a daily basis due to the inaccessibility of the public spaces where he lives.

Using his power chair, Matt faced his first challenge almost as soon as he left his house when he reached a grass verge near his local shop.  Motorists regularly park on the verge while visiting the shop which has resulted in the verge sinking and developing a large hole beneath the grass. The hole can’t easily be seen, particularly for anyone with a visual impairment. This concealed and dangerous hole has resulted in Matt getting stuck and causing damage to his chair on many occasions. 

Once he navigated the dangerous verge, Matt showed Jon how crossing the road to get to his local shop can also be difficult as the drop-down kerb that enables him to access the shop isn’t well signposted meaning motorists often park across it, leaving Matt stranded and unable to get into the shop. 

While he has lived his whole life facing challenges with accessibility and has found some ways to get around the obstacles, there are still many places that he is unable to visit, such as his local post office and pub garden. 

Every journey Matt makes takes a huge amount of planning, taking away any option of spontaneity that many of us might take for granted. 
Many Sunnybank members face similar challenges, unable to live their lives in the way they choose, limited to a small number of accessible places. 

To hear Matt’s full Sunny Sessions interview with DJ Jon, catch up here.

If you come across an accessibility issue in a public area in Surrey, you can report it here.  

Ready, set, go!

Over the past two weeks, we have all been amazed by the achievements of our Paralympians in Tokyo. We have been watching in admiration as the athletes, who have undoubtedly faced barriers to sport in their lives, have triumphed and achieved such incredible things.

While we ourselves may not be Olympians, we are so inspired by what is possible when opportunities are available to people with disabilities.

At Sunnybank we really understand how sport, fitness and being active can benefit our mental health, our physical health and foster confidence and self-esteem.

Over the summer months we have been meeting members weekly, and with the support of Surrey Cricket Foundation, have had lots of fun playing cricket. Most recently we have had the opportunity to be taught to play Boccia.  Coming together weekly and taking part sports has allowed our members to:

  • re-connect with friends
  • build new relationships
  • learn new skills
  • increase fitness levels
  • develop a routine

Here are some photos showing just how joyous being active can be.


Earlier this week, DJ Jon interviewed Abdul from Mencap for our Sunny Sessions radio show. Adbul has mild learning disabilities and works for Mencap as a Sports Trainer and Tutor. Abdul shared his story and his passion for sports, and getting people with learning disabilities involved.

To hear from Abdul, and to find out more about sports inclusion and the barriers that people with learning disabilities often come across, catch up with our Sunny Sessions show here.

Growing plants, friendships and confidence

Blog by Dorothy Watson, CEO

To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” Mahatma Gandhi. 

It all started a year ago when our Choices Manager, Lesley Scott, said the words “what we need is an allotment”.  My reply was a short one, “great idea, perhaps in a year or two”. Little did I know that within the week, Lesley’s words would yield the wonderful offer of an allotment right on our doorstep.

A year later and we have planted tomatoes, runner beans, peas, herbs, some flowers and a blackberry bush. With the help of our wonderful allotment team, we have a plot of land that is growing young plants with two near-complete raised beds and a covered space to offer protection from the sun and rain and to chat with friends.  

Our allotment is a wonderful place and is a place that is growing plants, friendships and confidence. It gives each of us a sense of space from the chaos known as our world.  To get to this point, there has been much loss and grief along the way. The tragic death of Lara, the partner to our Sunny Sessions Coordinator, Jon, whose memorial fund made the allotment work possible and the many Sunnybank friends who left us far too soon in this pandemic.

We will keep them in our hearts as we dig the soil and plant. We will keep their laughter with us as we begin to pick the fruits and vegetables. We will cherish their memories as we share our stories as we sit back and enjoy our lovely plot. 

If you would like to get involved, please do get in touch and come visit the plot….it certainly grows on you! 

June allotment update

As many of our supporters will already know, we have been very fortunate to have been given an allotment space this year. Having access to an allotment will offer our members the opportunity to develop new skills and improve their wellbeing while growing their own fruit and vegetables. 

With the help and advice of many kind gardeners, we have spent the last few months planning how best to organise and develop our accessible space. 

This week is when hard physical work really began. We cleared all of the top weeds, built two raised beds and started work on our accessible path. Our special thanks to Roman and Faith for the back-breaking work on such a hot few days!

🍓The pre-existing strawberries have so far survived their temporary potted homes, with glimpses of the red ripening fruit beneath the leaves. Sadly some of our wildflowers have struggled but we hope to seed the new soil with some wild plants – we hope we haven’t seen the last of them. Thanks to Alison for watering the strawberries!

🌱We have an amazing list of donated young vegetables thanks to those who kindly donated to our Pledge-a-Veg campaign. We have lots of variety including Swiss chard, tomatoes, herbs, beetroot, runner beans as well as the newly sprouting pumpkins and cornflowers donated by Epsom in Bloom.

Three photos showing allotment plot under construction.

🌻We hope to begin to plant out towards the end of June. 

Watch this space!