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!

A tribute to Dorothy

A wonderful tribute written by Sunnybank Volunteer Audrey, after the sad passing of her friend, Dorothy.

“I was lucky enough to be Dorothy’s friend for about 14 years. When I first met her we used to meet at her home while we got to know each other. We used to look at magazines which I  bought on the way. I quickly learned that she wasn’t interested in gardening or pictures of plants or scenery but loved looking at clothes and shoes, the more colourful the better. She loved cat pictures but didn’t like dogs and if we came across a picture of the queen she would salute.  
I would sometimes take some bottles of nail polish and Dorothy would choose her colour and I’d paint her nails. She always looked beautifully dressed and liked to wear her bracelets and necklaces and have her hair up.

After a while we started to go out, sometimes to garden centres for coffee. On our way in the car we sang songs of which Dorothy’s favourite was Daisy Daisy and she loved her birthday, looking forward to it for ages and practicing singing Happy Birthday with great gusto!

Once we were there we would have coffee and Dorothy would love to choose which cake she was going to have. She was always so happy to meet anyone we came across, holding out her hand to them and could light up a room with her lovely smile and cheeky laugh. She was such a friendly soul.

She loved the craft activities and music at Kites Club and would sometimes enjoy getting up for a dance, and also going to an easy access church service where she liked meeting the other people and having coffee and cake with them afterwards.

I will miss her terribly as I’m sure everybody who knew and loved her will.

The world will seem a sadder place without Dorothy.”

Sunnybank Superhero Week

“A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the size of his heart.” – Zeus

We are delighted to launch Sunnybank Superhero Week on 1st – 6th June.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been inspired by the bravery and stoicism of our Sunnybank members as well as the ongoing support and commitment of our volunteers and community friends. 

We have come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic and none of this would have been possible without our very own superheroes.

We start our Sunnybank Superhero week with a sponsored 10k walk as part of the London Vitality Marathon. Sunnybank CEO, Dorothy and Choices Manager, Lesley, will begin their walk at the old site of St. Ebbas hospital in Epsom which is still home to some of our Sunnybank members. On their route, they will be passing some special places along the way that are important to our charity, including St. Barnabas Church, the Sunnybank office as well as some of our member’s homes.  If you would like to support Dorothy and Lesley along the way, you can find their route here.

The next day, Futures Manager, Claire and the Futures group, will be running 10k as a team, celebrating the energy and aspiration of our young members. 

To support Dorothy, Lesley and Claire, please visit our JustGiving page.

During Superhero Week we have a lots of themed events planned for our members and will also be broadcasting a special Sunny Sessions radio show where our members and volunteers will share their superpowers with us all.

We are also delighted to be toasting some of our Superhero Volunteers and community friends in the Sunnybank Unsung Hero Awards across our social media channels throughout the bank holiday weekend. 

Schedule of events

This is for all of the Sunnybank Superheroes!

An important announcement

Blog by Dorothy Watson, CEO

Dorothy smiling at the camera

Asbutr hough frasslesnbrorosi ……….is that clear? 

As I look back over the past year, the word that stays with me is ‘clear’.

It became clear that the pandemic was going to change all of us in many ways – how we live, what we value and who we most miss. It was also clear to me that we were facing the same daily challenges as those with learning disabilities – not being given sufficient time to understand or process change, not seeing friends, being stuck at home, trying to understand new social cues and behaviour, feeling forgotten or viewed as a potential risk or threat. 

It also became clear that our world and the information needed to live in it was not clear, especially for people with learning disabilities. Our world was a very different place.  

So, we launched a twice weekly radio show called ‘Sunny Sessions’, we shared information and shout outs, we opened an online hub with Easy Read information, we photographed people on their doorsteps so they were not forgotten, we advocated for people’s basic rights to access the same services as others, we launched zoom groups and activities to stay connected and we called those who were struggling and frightened. Day by day it became clear that although socially distanced, we were becoming closer and that we were in it together. 

If the world of Covid has taught me anything, it is clear that we are all the same – with or without a learning disability. The only difference is what society expects from us and how we are treated. It isn’t the common ground that we share but the barriers that divide us.   

As we move forward in this pandemic, clearly it is time to change and challenge barriers…. Is the information you provide easy to read and understand? What do you do when you see someone struggling to understand where to queue? Do you hear or witness points of views that exclude or discriminate against people with learning disabilities? 

We are moving towards a new world. We are not the same as we were a year ago. Help us make these next steps accessible ones and live with inclusion at the heart of everything that we do.   

#BreakingBarriers…….. is that clear?

International Women’s Day

What it’s like to be a woman with a Learning Disability

Photo of Jovi smiling

One of the women on the Sunnybank team who we all feel inspired by is Choices Officer, Jovi. She has achieved lots of great things, and always makes others feel uplifted and happy.

Here Jovi shares her experience of being a woman with a learning disability.

“I think it can be quite challenging being a woman with a learning disability. The disability I have (Autism/Autistic Spectrum Disorder/ASD) is often difficult to diagnose in females as the assessments are more male-based.

I get quite a lot of panic attacks when something doesn’t go right (even if it’s the smallest thing) and I have a lot of special interests that people younger than me would have (like Disney & Unicorns).

There are some positive things I do which help me to go about my day to day life. One of the things that I do is wear my Sunflower Lanyard. I make sure I wear it when I go to concerts for my favourite bands Little Mix, Rak-Su & JLS and when I go to major events such as the Summertime Ball and when I go to the airport.

It means that staff are made aware that I have a hidden disability without me having to tell them and then they try to help me in the best way possible. One time that The Sunflower Lanyard really helped was on the way back from France in 2019, I got to go in the minivan from the EasyJet plane to the terminal and then got to go through the terminal from the gate to Baggage Reclaim in one of the golf buggies!”