SUNBEAMS PLAY

RCN 1152188, Great Yarmouth

Sunbeams Play is an Ofsted registered charity, providing a safe, inclusive and caring environment for children and young people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Specialist after school and Saturday sessions are fun but differentiated, individualised and delivered to maximise achievement. Sessions are provided for young carers with training and 1-1 support being provided to parents and families.

About Sunbeams

Sunbeams stands on the site of a previous respite centre for children and young people in Gt Yarmouth, but due to its closure by Ofsted in 2012 families affected by autism were left with no support.

 The founder, Monica Bates was initially approached by children’s services and the early years team to ask if she would be interested in setting up a new centre. Following extensive research she found there were no provisions in East Anglia providing respite for parents of children and young people with Autism. Armed with this knowledge and through personal experience and a background in childcare she agreed. 

Sunbeams was formally founded in 2014, and after working with other local charities to initiate contact with families opened with 5 children. Following registration with Ofsted we steadily developed services to incorporate families and grew to the establishment we have now. 

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Today, Sunbeams Play is an Ofsted registered charity with an outstanding grade supporting children, young people, adults and families affected by autism, a lifelong condition that affects social and communication skills often causing anxiety, depression and emotional turmoil for all concerned. We currently provide specialised out of school activities for 5 – 25-year-olds, support for young carers, family support groups, Late Diagnosis support groups, Stay and play fpr 0-5 year olds, a community hotspot, individual support, counselling and training. 

Activities provided are all differentiated and adapted to ensure a comfortable, safe and accessible environment for all those using the services, offering an holistic approach to family well-being, lowering emotional and aggressive outbursts, isolation and exclusion while raising self-esteem, confidence, family and community cohesion.

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Sunbeams has a commissioned psychotherapist who is working closely with members of Sunbeams who have been identified as needing support with wellbeing, stress, anxiety etc. 

Sunbeams has grown and evolved into a charity that supports children, young people and adults with autism and other related conditions including mental health and ADHD. Sunbeams also offers support, guidance and advocacy to families, parents, carers and siblings of people who are affected by autism, be it in the home or a family member or friend. Support includes benefits advice, education, tribunals, training and psychotherapy/counselling.

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Due to characteristic communication difficulties, an autistic person may have severe anxiety issues but have a decreased ability to express it, other difficulties include:

- social phobia

- excessive worry/rumination

- obsessive compulsive behaviour

- hyper-vigilance, or seeming “shell shocked”

- phobias

- avoidance behaviours

- rigid routines and resistance to change

- stimming and/or self-injurious behaviour

- controlling behaviours – oppositional defiance

- meltdowns

- shut down

 Sunbeams works with its autistic members to build on existing skills and develop new skills centered around life and social skills with the goal of providing each member with realistic targets to work towards which will support a level of independence as they reach adulthood. Projects include money management and banking, accepted behaviours when out in public, staying safe, work experience and much more. We also provide activities that stimulate fine and motor skills and desensitize any sensory issues such as touching certain textures.

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We regularly seek feedback from beneficiaries and recently received the following comments:

 

'H has hugely benefited from being one to one with his key person. H has gone from often having quite challenging and aggressive moments, to now having very positive, happy times. Sunbeams have worked incredibly hard with H, enabling him to now use some of his learnt skills at home, making home life more positive. Val, his key person, has an amazing approach with H. H is getting a lot of enjoyment out of Sunbeams, he is making positive friendships and really looks forward to his next session. Sunbeams have been a massive support to my family and I am incredibly grateful for all that they do'

 ‘How sunbeams help me change my life

My daughter started sunbeams in 2018 and since then they have been a huge support helping with filling in DLA form, EHCP, Therapy and many other things. Now my whole family attends different groups and my oldest will be doing her work experience there this year.

I had always said to Sue how much I wanted to work with children on the spectrum ever since I knew that my children and myself are Autistic. Last January Sue asked me if I would like to join the team and also do my level 3 childcare course. This was one of the happiest days in my life. I had always been a hairdresser but fell out of love with it when I lost my husband and had the children to bring up on my own. I always felt stuck and would never get back into work or if i did, I would have to go back into a salon which I would never cope with now.

I started at the end of January 2023 and never looked back. Being at sunbeams for a year now it’s like home having a family that understands and supports you all the way through everything and has given me a chance to become and understand the person I am today.

I have now finished my level 3 childcare with A*. For someone that didn't even sit their GCSE due to not having the support or understanding to help me through school life, I've now achieved my dream and more.

I’m now starting my senco course which I’m very excited for but i couldn't have done all this without the support of sunbeams. I’m very grateful to them for helping me get back into work, have a job I love and for letting me be part of their family.’

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Parents and carers access family support groups, training such as First Aid skills or Behaviour Management, advocacy with tribunals and meetings with health care or education. Sunbeams also supports with mental health by providing workshops around mental health issues, group counselling sessions and one to one counselling sessions through our qualified psychotherapist.

We work closely with and support several small business in the local community who provide activities and opportunities for our members to develop their life skills and to also socialise together with their peers enabling them to provide support to each other through their shared experience.

We educate the local community about autism.

Sunbeams supports children and young people with autism and related conditions such as ADHD, Dyspraxia, anxiety and depression through regular sessions where they are supported by their key workers to access all activities available.

Activities are catered to their individual needs to ensure that all abilities have an equal and fair chance to take part in the activities set out. This consists of a great deal of thought and discussion to provide bespoke, individual plans for each member, who's abilities range from non-verbal classic autism through to high functioning autism.

Sunbeams provides a support group for young carers who are predominantly the siblings of our members with autism. This group is a fun safe space for children and young people to spend time with others who have the same experiences as them.

Sunbeams provides a youth group for its older members going up to the age of 25. This group focusses on developing existing life and social skills and building on emerging skills by providing opportunities to go out into the community as well as bring in local small businesses to spend time with them, giving them new experiences, such as baking or pottery and supporting them to develop the skills needed to socialise and build meaningful relationships.

Sunbeams is lucky enough to have a psychotherapist on board who offers one to one counselling sessions, workshops and group therapy, this service is offered to any of Sunbeams members, including parents and carers, who are struggling with their wellbeing and need help to understand their feelings and emotions as well as develop coping strategies for difficulties often faced by families living with autism.

Sunbeams also provides family support groups, regular training for parents and carers, dad's group (a group dedicated to supporting fathers in managing their feelings and developing the skills needed when dealing with an autistic child).

Sunbeams also provides three trips a year (minimum) where families are supported on outings, this includes transport, snacks and gifts and staff on hand to help as and when needed.

Sunbeams also does outreach work to ensure our hard to reach families are receiving a service, provide I-Pads if a family is without any method to use online services and are part of the Norman Lamb coalition. Sunbeams is often approached by local services, such as G.P surgeries, schools and even museums to provide support with creating autism friendly spaces.

Sunbeams also works with Lidl to provide food parcels for local vulnerable families.

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Our leaders

Sunbeams has a diverse group of trustees, all of whom have experience, one way or another, of autism and disability,  these are a psycho-therapist who specializes in autism, a police officer who has autism in the family home, a solicitor who has autism in the home, a builder who has disability and a former high sheriff of Norfolk who supports several charities and is also a former banker.

Sunbeams management is formed by three staff members all with disability of their own and all who have lived experience with autism, one of which was diagnosed with autism in 2022 and as a result Sunbeams Late Diagnosis Group was created.  Another is currently going through the autism diagnosis process.

All staff members have lived experience of autism and are trained to a minimum of level three in childcare, learning and development. One staff member is a specialist in sign language as we have several nonverbal members.

Some of our staff have a diagnosis of autism themselves and are mentors to the young people who attend.

We feel our team well represents the disability community and recognizes a lot of the issues people with disability face and are challenged with. We are able to empathise and offer advice through our own experiences and through training. Due to our incredibly experienced staff we understand autism well and have the skills to work positively with our members.

How much funding we would like

Sunbeams is raising funds to enable them to purchase a new centre with more space to enable us to provide more services, reach more people in need and develop new services including a special needs nursery.

How this funding will help Sunbeams grow, strengthen and become more efficient

Currently Sunbeams has over 70 children and young people on their waiting list to be able to access services.  This list grows weekly.  The funding would enable Sunbeams to introduce new services and employ more people to reduce this waiting list.  Sunbeams would increase Stay and Play sessions from once a week to three times a week.  This group is invaluable for young parents who are socially isolated and experiencing loneliness and provides opportunities for gaining support around parenting skills, claiming benefits and developing meaningful friendships with peers.  Sunbeams would also offer an additional three extra respite sessions per week for children and young people aged between five and eighteen, by doing this we will be able to reduce our waiting lists by up to 60 – number depending on level of need and support required.  All new members will have access to our counselling and therapy services, trips, outings and activities as well as family support, advocacy and food parcels.  

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Sunbeams has been running at maximum capacity for over two years now and it feels like a natural progression to be able to employ more staff and reach out to more of the autistic community who are asking for support thereby growing and becoming more efficient.  Sunbeams will strengthen by employing more people with the skills needed to support the autistic community, reaching further out into the community and becoming more prevalent and known in the autistic community.   Sunbeams will also offer training and work experience opportunities to the autistic community.  

Our vision for Sunbeams is for it to expand further into the autistic community and become a recognised name for anyone who needs support around autism, we want to be able to offer learning opportunities to develop life, social and work skills to promote independence.  We want to have a doctor and dentist based at the centre once a week and a hairdresser once a month – as these are areas of difficulty for a majority of our service users.  We have a local surgery who is very interested in moving this forward.