Life is changing for us all

Before lockdown, our experiences had shown us that people with learning disabilities had to fight harder than anyone else to participate in everyday life.

Before lockdown, our members faced barriers at almost every turn; when shopping, making friends, visiting the GP, accessing the benefits system, navigating public transport, making sense of official letters filled with jargon, to name a few.

Before lockdown, the world often felt unjust and unwelcoming. Something exclusive, only to be enjoyed by those without disabilities.

Since lockdown began, we have been adapting and developing the way in which we support our members. In adapting our services and the way we deliver them, we have been made ever more aware of the additional barriers that someone with a learning disability has had to face during this challenging time.

As lockdown eases, and Government guidance changes frequently, living an uncomplicated and happy life without barriers sometimes feels a very long way away.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. We have also seen a great many ways in which barriers are being lifted. Often, simple changes made by an individual or business can have an enormously positive effect on the life of someone with a learning disability.

As the general public suddenly find themselves in somewhat of an equal footing with the learning disability community – experiencing a life filled with restrictions – a wonderful opportunity has presented itself to see and feel first-hand how these barriers can have a detrimental effect on our everyday lives and wellbeing.

We urge our friends, colleagues, local community and beyond to join us in examining the barriers that are preventing those with learning disabilities from participating in life as they wish to, and to consider making some small changes to create a new and inclusive world for everyone; one where we can all play a valuable role.

Over the coming weeks, we will share practical ways for everyone to become involved and help us break these barriers down.

#BreakingBarriers

Courage through Covid-19

Blog by Nicola Jura, Futures & Office Administrator

It’s been three months since I have written a blog.

During lockdown I have learnt I am not a work from home type of person but I have learnt to use Zoom and I now know how to keep myself busy.

I have been to different parks including Bourne Hall where I saw so many birds; a swan and her three babies, some pigeons – one of which was really fat!

The paths have been a mixture of smooth and gravel which isn’t always easy for my chair.

My final thought is that I look forward to celebrating when this is all over. 

Simon’s Making Miles Matter

For those who may be unfamiliar with his story, Simon Rhind-Tutt took the decision to use his time in lockdown as an opportunity to train for an extreme physical challenge on behalf of The Sunnybank Trust.

On 26th July, Simon will walk 40 miles in one day starting from Surbiton in Surrey and finishing in Gravesend in Kent.

Simon has been very busy over the last couple of months, training every day (always adhering to Government guidelines), and has inspired us all along the way.

In his latest video, Simon updates us on his journey so far.

If you would like to support Simon and his ‘Making Miles Matter’ challenge, please visit his JustGiving page.

Sunnybank’s latest statement

Member and volunteer talking and laughing

Sunnybank has kept in touch with its community during the pandemic through regular newsletters, radio shows, craft activities, phone calls, zoom groups and, in some cases, visits. 

However, we realise that many of you miss the opportunity to meet up socially in person and to have fun with friends at our many social clubs and activities.

We are continually reviewing the situation but believe that it would be unsafe to re-open our clubs while there is still a significant risk of Covid-19. Particularly at our larger clubs such as Kites.

The safety of our members, volunteers and staff is a priority. In order to create a safe environment at our clubs and activities, we need to consider all risks such as social distancing, the hygiene of frequently used areas such as toilets and kitchens, as well as the deep clean required pre and post an event. This would mean introducing new processes such as reducing attendance numbers, adding a booking system as well as providing PPE, to name a few. 

Even after these precautions are met, we believe that the risk of Covid-19 still remains too high to re-open our large face-to-face group activities such as Kites Club. 

We may, however, consider activities involving smaller groups in the coming months, as it would be more manageable to ensure everyone’s safety. We will keep you posted on any further developments.

Thank you all for your continued support.

We hope to be back ‘in the flesh’ as soon we can, in the meantime stay safe.

Supporting our community

While in lockdown, many of the people we support have no access to the vital services they usually rely on. To help fill that gap, our team have been calling members weekly, and in some cases daily, to chat and make sure they are doing ok.

Each week, members of the Sunnybank team make deliveries to some of our community’s most vulnerable people. This week, Lesley delivered packages containing arts and craft materials and snacks across Epsom and the surrounding areas. 

Isolation is something that we’re all learning to adapt to during lockdown. It can be especially difficult to navigate new ways of communicating, shopping, socialising and accessing services, more so for someone with a learning disability.

Lesley delivering parcels

In a survey by Sense, over half of disabled people reported feeling lonely, rising to over three quarters (77%) for those aged 18-34 (Sense 2017). Loneliness is associated with physical and mental health problems and poorer quality of life (Gilmore & Cuskelly, 2014).
Our team have reacted quickly to the ‘new normal’ to ensure our members are supported at every step along the way.

Did you know that as well as calling our members regularly for a chat, we:

  • have launched a twice weekly radio show especially for our community in collaboration with Surrey Hills Radio
  • host a selection of Zoom groups every week, including ‘drama group’ and ‘games night’
  • send members themed activity emails each week 
  • have collaborated with local company Bee Kind Waste to produce weekly accessible craft videos
  • collate and share helpful Easy Read documents to those who need them

For more information, visit our Lockdown Resource Hub.

Simon’s Making Miles Matter

As ever, the support we receive from our local community is second to none. We are so grateful to everyone who gives their time to help us.

Simon Rhind-Tutt (son of Sunnybank founder, Tom), is no exception. He has pledged to take on the mightiest of all challenges to support our charity during this difficult time.

Once lockdown has been lifted, Simon will walk 40 miles along the Thames in one day to raise money for The Sunnybank Trust.

Simon updates us on his gruelling training in his latest video.

If you would like to support Simon and his ‘Making Miles Matter’ challenge, please visit his JustGiving page.

Did you see us on the news?

Interview on Zoom

On Wednesday evening (15th April), our virtual Coffee & Chat group were invited to speak to ITV news on the realities of isolation.

We are extremely proud of our members for speaking so well and sharing their personal stories, highlighting the difficulties that many people with learning disabilities are facing during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

If you missed it, you can watch the interview here.

Heading to Heathrow

Blog by Nicola Jura, Futures & Office Administrator

On the 13th of January we were invited to take a trip to Heathrow airport. A week before the trip I had a dry run at Epsom train station to see how my chair would fit on the train. 

I went with the Futures Group and we were joined by Graham and Amanda from QEF. Our journey was from Epsom to Paddington station, then from Paddington on the Heathrow Express.   

When we arrived at Heathrow, we met Sarah and Rachel from the Heathrow team, and Helen and Lady-Marie who are both are disability travel activist extraordinaires! Sarah explained about the flower lanyards which you can wear if you need assistance, this is optional. She also talked about the hoist which can be used on the plane to get you to your seat. 

Helen told me about her service dog and Lady-Marie gave me some tips on how to get my power chair on and off the train and how to park on the bus.

While we were having lunch, we got the chance to ask some of the questions that we had about our journey.  

Afterwards we had a Skype call with Jennene Greenall who works for Brisbane airport. We asked lots of questions. She gave us a list of things we can do in Brisbane if we decide to visit. After we asked our final questions, we went to terminal 3 to catch the train for our return to Epsom.  

I felt that the trip went well. There are things that need to be improved when it comes to access, and I hope I can go back and try the equipment on offer. I’d like to have more experiences like this in the future.     

Me getting on a bus in London and a group of us at the Paddington statue.
He has been there since 2000!
Being shown how to use the ticket machine and all us us outside Heathrow Terminal 3

You wait all day for a bus..

Travelling by bus

Bus travel is a lifeline for many people in our community. Buses are frequent, cover local routes and are often cheaper than using trains and taxis. Our Futures group have recently taken two bus journeys; one from Epsom to Kingston and one from Victoria Station to Paddington Station in London. While bus travel is convenient and offers a great deal of freedom and independence, we found some obstacles along the way.

What worked well?

  • All 8,000 London buses and the vast majority of buses operating in Surrey are classed as accessible, meaning that they can be comfortably accessed by wheelchair users (with some exceptions for extra-large electric chairs)
  • Assistance dogs are welcome on all buses too
  • There is (usually) no need to make arrangements in advance

What made it difficult?

  • Last year, changes to concessionary bus passes came into force restricting use between 9.30am and 11pm, impacting people’s ability to travel to work etc.
  • Other passengers aren’t always aware that wheelchair users take priority over pushchairs
  • Signage does not take hidden disabilities into consideration
  • The design of the wheelchair space means it can be difficult to manoeuvre the chair into position. On our bus trip from Victoria to London, the driver started to drive before we could secure our wheelchair safely
  • Buses tend to only accommodate one wheelchair, meaning that you will have to wait for another bus

Useful tips

  • If applicable, apply for a companion bus pass which will allow a companion to travel with you for free
  • Sutton Community Transport offer free travel training to increase confidence and encourage independent travel, especially among vulnerable groups (find out more here)
  • If you need to sit down, there are priority seats available
  • If using a wheelchair, allow extra time for your journey as each bus only has one designated wheelchair area. You might need to wait for a bus with a free space

All aboard!

Travelling by train

Travelling by train can open up many exciting possibilities such as visiting friends, getting to college or work independently and visiting different towns and cities. It’s something that many people might take for granted.

For anyone with a disability, travelling by train can present a number of challenges and obstacles; sometimes these challenges mean it isn’t possible to travel by train at all.

On our recent trip to Heathrow airport, we travelled by train from Epsom to London Victoria. Here is a summary of what we found.

What worked well?

  • Station staff were very helpful when additional assistance was requested
  • We were able to use our railcards easily when buying tickets
  • We were able to check in advance that the stations we were visiting were accessible (looking at Southern Railway and National Rail websites)

What made it difficult?

  • Although we booked the use of a ramp in advance, it wasn’t ready when we arrived at Victoria Station
  • There wasn’t any clear signage on board to demonstrate how to park a power chair

Useful tips

  • Check online that the station and train has the facilities you need e.g. accessible toilet, ramp, lift
  • If you will need assistance at the station or on the train, you can book in advance
  • Write down details of where you are travelling to and who is expecting you, a phone number is useful if you are running late or get lost
  • Take any medication that you might need with you (bear in mind that the train home might be delayed)
  • Check if you are eligible for a Disabled Person’s Railcard. If so, you and a friend can save up to 1/3 off train journeys