Earlier this month The Sunnybank Trust announced that it has been offered £288,000 from the Big Lottery's Reaching Communities Programme to expand the work it does with people with learning disabilities, provided it can find £106,000 match funding from elsewhere.
Six months ago, the Epsom Guardian launched the Shine On appeal to support this outstanding little charity which is a vital lifeline to so many people, young and old, in our community.
Connor, who has Downs syndrome, autism and a range of other issues, is a young man who benefits from The Sunnybank Trust's work.
With its support, he is at college and is learning to cope with the challenges that daily life poses. With your help, many other people like Connor will be able to receive this support over the coming years.
Here is a day in the life of Connor, told by Dorothy Watson, a dedicated supporter of the charity who leads its weekly social club Kites:
Connor is 20 years old with blue eyes and dark hair. On Friday nights he likes nothing better than pizza or listening to his music in his favourite cool black t-shirt. You can’t talk about Connor without mentioning Gangnam Style which makes him laugh.
Connor was born with an extra chromosome on the 21st pair, in other words he has Downs syndrome. Connor also has mild hearing and visual impairments, a displaced hip condition and autism, which means he can feel overwhelmed by bright lights, noises and crowds.
Connor has a learning disability and has never learnt to speak, he communicates his stress through physically rocking, occasional biting and hitting his head - as if trying to stop the noise, light or the increasing sense of panic he may feel from crowded spaces.
In Connor's life the key people are his parents and those that work with him in a professional capacity either with his day-to-day care or supporting him at the college he attends. Connor is at college three and a half days a week and is learning life skills such as sensory cooking, travelling on buses and integrating in the community. He also has an occupational therapist that works with him to try and help him cope with the levels of stress and anxiety he experiences, which will reduce the level of bodily harm that he can cause on himself.
Diane Bright, transition advocate from The Sunnybank Trust, works with school leavers facing the transition to college. She says: "For many people like Connor, attending college can be a huge challenge and very frightening. There are changes in your surroundings, different routines and new people. This is why we are there for young people like Connor, to make sure that the new staff understand his likes, dislikes and how best to communicate with him. Each new student receives a Sunnybank 'communication passport' which tell the staff everything they will need to know about that student. This is an important stage in every young persons life."
Social opportunities for Connor are limited. Since he became an adult he also attends a day centre, but there are not many people his age. This is one of the reasons the Kites club is so special. It offers the opportunity to make friends and the chance to "go out" weekly to have fun. The Kites Club provides special sensory nights for those with autism and sensory conditions. Other activities can also include Tai Chi or percussion workshops for aspiring drummers such as Connor.
"Kites Club offers great opportunities for people with complex needs," says one of the carers who regularly bring people like Connor to the Kites Club.
At the end of a day, tea will be like every other meal for Connor - timed and presented in a routine fashion to keep him feeling calm and relaxed. His favourite tea used to be pizza in a local pizza restaurant until some people complained to his parents that Connor "shouldn’t be allowed out, especially in the restaurant". This simple comment greatly upset both his parents and also Connor who felt the stress his parents experienced.
For people like Connor there is the constant pressure of understanding and communicating in what can seem an alien and confusing world. With support and friendship he reaches different benchmarks each day, from the simple action of nodding his head to communicate to coping with the extreme sensory impact of a bus journey to college. These may be simple to each of us, but in Connor's world these are huge steps and the reasons why his parents are proud of him and why he needs the support from his local community.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
There are a number of ways you can support our Shine On Appeal:
1. Visit the charity's Justgiving page on The Sunnybank Trust's website (www.sunnybanktrust.org) and click on 'donate'
2. Text £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to The Sunnybank Trust by texting TSBT16 followed by the amount to 70070.
3. Post cheques and postal orders payable to "The Sunnybank Trust" to: The Sunnybank Trust, St. Barnabas Church, Temple Road, Epsom, Surrey, KT19 8HA.
4. Volunteer to help fundraise or run an event, or donate gifts, services or vouchers for raffles: call the fundraising team on 01372 749871 or email firstname.lastname@example.org