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

Kingston Kings and a Queen

Blog by Nicola Jura, Futures & Office Administrator

The Futures group recently took a trip to Kingston to see how accessible it is.

We traveled by bus. It was my first time traveling in my power chair on public transport and I managed to park myself.

We started on the high street and ended in Bentalls Centre.  

We saw a piece of art which was phone boxes falling over (see photo below). The places we went to were accessible but there was a dip in the pavement which made things difficult for me. 

Just a quick reminder from me – don’t eat before you travel!

Artwork the we saw (David Mach, out of order)
Ritesh and David
Lunch stop at Costa
Christmas Display in the Bentall Centre

It’s that time of year again

Photo of Nicola out and about

Blog by Nicola Jura, Futures & Office Administrator

We are busy planning the staff Christmas lunch and preparing for our gift wrapping service on the 14th of December to the 24th in Epsom in the Ashley Centre (outside House of Fraser). If you’re free please come on down and see us in the festive spirit. 

Our Christmas lunch will have more people than last year, there will be 12 of us, can you believe it! Guess who’s organising it.. 

We have a new team member. Annie has joined as our new Independent Advocate and will be replacing John. He will be missed by all of us at Sunnybank. We welcome Annie on board and look forward to seeing what she brings to the team. 

Purple Tuesday logo

The Sunnybank Trust pledges support to Purple Tuesday

Sunnybank joins over 2000 businesses and organisations making changes to support those with disabilities. 

As part of our commitment to Purple Tuesday, we pledge to complete an accessibility audit of our office and website. By actively supporting and taking part in the Purple Tuesday initiative, we hope to encourage local businesses to consider the needs of their disabled customers and service users. 

New research published for Purple Tuesday reveals that poor customer service and a lack of staff understanding are among the key barriers preventing disabled consumers purchasing goods and services.  

Dorothy Watson, Sunnybank CEO said: “In our daily work we see the ways in which opportunities for adults with learning disabilities are limited by a lack of understanding and accessibility in local shops and organisations. By supporting Purple Tuesday, we hope to encourage other local organisations to plan with disabilities in mind. It really would mean a great deal for our members to have access to the services that many take for granted.” 

The purple pound is worth £249 billion and yet it is estimated that less than 10% of businesses have a targeted plan to access this disability market.3  

75% of disabled people have had to leave a shop or website, unable to go through with their purchase because of their disability1. New research shows that disabled people are more likely to spend money with businesses if they improve2

  • staff understanding about different disabilities (56%) 
  • the overall customer experience for disabled people (41%) 
  • shop accessibility (41%) 
  • website accessibility (16%) 

Some disabled respondents said improvements should include ‘being treated the same as anyone else’ and having ‘knowledgeable staff’.  

Of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, 80% have a hidden impairment, meaning improvements are needed to improve access for disabled people, beyond having a ramp installed to help enter a site

Mike Adams OBE, Chief Executive of Purple, said:  “Purple Tuesday has more than doubled in size this year, with more than 2000 organisations from a variety of sectors making commitments to improve the customer experience for disabled people. These are long-term changes that will have a lasting impact for millions of customers – and improve the commercial opportunities for the organisations involved.”

 For more information on Purple Tuesday, visit


1 Extra Costs Commission: Final Report. Scope, March 2015 
2 Research Conducted: 15/08/2019 – 22/08/2019. Sample: 501 respondents in the UK who consider themselves to be disabled. 
3 Leading from the front, Disability and the role of the Board, KPMG, May 2018: 

Busy, busy, busy!

Blog by Nicola Jura, Futures & Office Administrator

On the 3rd of October I attended the Grange Annual Review meeting which included a performance from Include Choir. Some people had their wishes come true this year, one of them was Richard who got to be the boss for a day, and another was a walking holiday in Scotland.

At the end there was a big surprise – they got a new minibus!! 

On the 9th of October, I went to the QEF open day which was on transport and accessibility.  There were many different stands and a driving track. We found out about the adaptions they can make to the driving theory test.  

We tried the toy adaptions on the MERU stand and got some information about a transfer sling you can use on airplanes.