The man who founded a charity for people with learning disabilities is appealing for support from everyone connected to the Epsom Cluster of mental hospitals.
Dyslexia-sufferer Tom Rhind-Tutt MBE, founded The Sunnybank Trust 25 years ago in his living room in Sunnybank, on the Woodcote Estate, Epsom, to support patients from those hospitals after they closed.
Epsom's mental hospitals played a very important role in the borough’s history, with thousands of people working there in a huge variety of roles for almost 100 years.
Created at the turn of the 20th Century by the then-London County Council, Mr Rhind-Tutt said they were not the disgrace some people now believe and were in fact a major improvement on the way people with mental health problems and learning disabilities were treated at this time - with many ending up chained to the walls of a workhouse.
Members of The Sunnybank Trust enjoying themselves at the Kites Club
Horton, Long Grove, Manor Park, St Ebba’s and West Park hospitals were self-sufficient establishments with their own farms, workhouses, laundries and kitchens where the patients were encouraged to work.
Mr Rhind-Tutt explained that he formed The Sunnybank Trust when the hospitals were shutting in the 1990s - a result of a change in NHS policy - to provide the support and care to patients that had previously been supplied by the hospitals’ league of friends.
The 86-year-old said: "These asylums were regarded as state-of-the-art and there was a pride in what they were doing. The local community rallied round.
"It’s not right to compare the hospitals of those days to today. It’s different but they cared and did their best. It’s wrong to say that they were a disgrace and a disappointment.
"The hospitals were very good in the sense of community. The patients could move around within the boundaries of the hospitals and did what they wanted when they weren’t working.
"These days they live in community homes in groups of six to eight. They are well-equipped but they don’t have the freedom to move around because of the traffic as they are living in ordinary roads."
Members of The Sunnybank Trust took part in a 100 Lap Cycle Challenge to raise money
Mr Rhind-Tutt became interested in those living in the Epsom Cluster after delivering a service at Horton Chapel and realising "I was like them".
Before establishing The Sunnybank Trust he had also run and founded the Helm group and the Ebbisham Association, both of which supported those living in the hospitals.
He said patients found the move into the community "disturbing", while some roads in Ashtead even started petitions against having "lunatics" placed there.
"The clients found the transition from living in the hospitals to the community disturbing," he said.
"What the staff in homes didn’t have time to do was to entertain and provide much-needed family time. This is where the Kites club and Sunnybank’s friendship scheme came in."
Mr Rhind-Tutt believes perceptions towards those with learning disabilities have improved, but there is still a long way to go.
"These people may be handicapped but they are loving and are entitled as much as anyone else to freedom and to live," he said.
"People are more understanding now, but we still have a big hill to climb. There is prejudice and latent fear of the learning disabled and people with mental health issues.
"Some people seem to think that if they go near them they will catch something."
He added: "A few years ago I invited a businessman friend of mine to the Kites Club. He sat at the back with his arms folded looking disgruntled.
"He was watching the members perform and I thought ‘he’s just very offended by all this’.
"Then I looked again and saw tears streaming down his face. This is where we need to get to."
The Epsom Guardian launched the Shine On appeal for The Sunnybank Trust last May
Last May, the Epsom Guardian launched the Shine On appeal to help the charity ensure it can keep on running its weekly social club, Kites; a friendship scheme and independent advocacy service, following a collapse in support from charitable trusts affected by the financial downturn.
Mr Rhind-Tutt said last week that he hoped everyone in the area connected with the Epsom Cluster, whether they be former staff, former supporters or people whose relatives were connected to the hospitals, would rally round to support The Sunnybank Trust which is continuing the work they did in the 21st Century.
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.
Were you connected to the Epsom Cluster of mental hospitals? Contact Hardeep Matharu by emailing email@example.com.