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Celebrating 95 years with a trip to the beach for our Sunshine families

Hello Sunshine News Readers,

Today, while you’re reading this, myself and around 20 others are soaring the skies of Newcastle as we take on the Sunshine Zipline on the Tyne Bridge – back where we began in 1928! So, if you happen to be wandering by the Quayside between 10am – 11am and see a flying shark, a superhero and a banana, don’t be alarmed – it’s just Team Sunshine! If you do spot us, come and say hello!

Assuming the Tyne river doesn’t claim me, I will be sharing lots of zipline content in next week’s column so stay tuned! For now though, I’m going to talk about our other 95th anniversary celebration that took place last week – it really is all go here at The Sunshine Fund!

The Sunshine Fund started from a single donation from King George V. Upon his visit to Newcastle to attend the official opening of the Tyne Bridge, he noticed the deprivation in the region.

He subsequently donated £15 to facilitate a trip to take local children to experience the North East seaside. With a direct link between disability and poverty, and with our region still remaining one of the most deprived areas of the UK almost 100 years later, the work we do in funding life-changing equipment to local disabled children continues to be in increasingly high demand.

We took things right back to the charity’s roots last Friday as we took a group of our Sunshine Families to Sandhaven beach in South Shields, paying homage to our rich history and royal connection. We worked with the incredible team at South Shields Surf to give our families the opportunity to have their own surf experience! The day consisted of 1-on-1 adapted surf sessions for children with physical needs who were able to learn and experience surfing from highly trained instructors, using specialist surfboards.

SURFING CLASS: A child taking part in a adapted surfing class

The team also ran general surf sessions so siblings and children without physical needs could learn how to ride the waves too, and ‘coastal explorer’ sessions, where children who didn’t fancy getting in the sea could still participate in activities, where they dug in the sand, looked for different plants and sealife, and created their own seashell trays, creating a wonderful sensory experience. For those who just wanted a relaxing beach day in a comfortable, accessible and inclusive environment, we had our own Sunshine Setup with lots of beach toys, activities and games.

EXPLORING FUN: Coastal explorers during their time at the beach

Despite the drizzle and unpredictable North Eastern temperatures, the children seemed to have the most amazing time, and we have been truly blown away by the glowing feedback we’ve received. It really was lovely seeing so many of our children having fun, pushing themselves outside their comfort zone and trying new experiences and it was heart-warming witnessing so many unforgettable memories being created.

“I want to go again!” was a phrase we heard a lot after kids had returned from the water, and one child said, The activity was really good, it was really fun and it had different boards for everyone to access which meant that everyone could do it and give it a try. It was a total new experience I would probably not have thought to do but I loved it.”

Our families co-ordinator, Bev Wright, said: Our family events are so important as they get families together, give them a chance to meet other people who’s children may share the same diagnosis, which they may not get the chance to otherwise. It’s a time where families can relax and have fun, and enjoy sharing special moments.

"It’s about showing and celebrating what our Sunshine Children can do, as opposed to what they can’t do. Sometimes our families find it really difficult to access mainstream activities because they’re too busy, too noisy, or they’re just too expensive – especially if you’re paying for an activity that you’re not sure your child will manage for more than two minutes, so it’s great that we can offer free events with a range of different activities designed with access and inclusion in mind, that families can dip in and out of.”

IN THE WAVES: Children having fun surfing

Our family events also give us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to new faces and to talk to the families we’ve supported and see exactly how the equipment we’ve funded has had an impact on both the children and their families. We had a great turnout and were able to catch up with a number of our families, some of whom had recently received equipment!

One of these was the Crawshaw family, who have been friends of the charity for a while, and Oli, who is the star of one of our charity videos, took part in the adapted surfing with the whole family, and his sisters. One of them even went back again for the afternoon session! We have recently funded a hoist for Oli, as pictured below, and the family told.

NEW HOIST: Oli in his hoist

This is what mum, Nicola, said following the beach day: “We were so thrilled that Oli finally got an opportunity to have a go at the adapted surfing and he LOVED IT, he was beaming from ear to ear and wants to do it again! Rob and I used to surf, many moons ago and to see Oli have a go at an activity that we enjoyed doing was just amazing.

"We have since shown a number of friends and family the videos that we took and they have all been bowled over and often in tears with joy. Equally Evie was in her element body boarding and thank you for letting her go again in the afternoon, she was one tired girl at the end of the day.

"I hope that you all know the difference that you are making to so many children's lives and in so many ways. Personally I was moved to tears on Friday watching some of the other children smile such huge infectious smiles as they broke barriers and got on the beach, got in the water and got to try things that they, or their parents may never have thought possible.

"All of you at The Sunshine Fund are making dreams come true and I say it again, we are so lucky to have a charity like yourselves here in the North East and if I could I would sing your praises from the roof tops.”

HAVING FUN: Sunshine family having fun at the beach

Another parent talked to us about how they’ve donated their equipment to another family, proving the longevity of our equipment. She also told us how the equipment had allowed quality time with the family, who lead active lifestyles. Recent research from Sport England talks about how families play a key role in shaping children’s attitudes and behaviours, and that spending active time together boosts relationships, which is shown by this lovely family.

This is what she said: “The Sunshine Fund provided us with an off-road buggy a few years ago and it’s opened up so many doors for our son as we can take him on adventures. The buggy has a bike attachment so he can go on bike rides with his dad which has opened up the family experience, and he’s been on lots of off-road paths, through rivers and on the beach, as he loves the beach, and which is why we came to the South Shields event where he took part in an adapted surf session which he thoroughly enjoyed – the guys were great with him, getting him into the water and keeping him safe, it’s been brilliant! Now he’s outgrown his older buggy, we’ve donated it to another family so their daughter can have the same experiences as we have.”

Whilst our family events are so important, we rely on the generosity of our supporters through donations and grants to continue putting on events like this one. I’d like to finish off by saying a huge thank you from all of Team Sunshine to everyone who made it the success it was.

Thank you to South Shields Surf for creating amazing memories and giving our kids the opportunity for incredible experiences. Thank you to Beach Access North East who provided a selection of beach-friendly wheelchairs for our kids to use and try out on the beach and in the sea – they were a huge hit!

BEACH FUN: Children in their beach-friendly wheelchairs

Thank you to Greggs and Morrisons, both of whom donated refreshments – the donuts certainly went down a treat! And thank you to the LGA Foundation and The Henry Smith Charity who gave us funding so we could make the day as special as possible. As well as the sessions, this funded a range of beach toys and games, plus chips for lunch which were very popular, and kept us all warm as the air got chillier!

THANK YOU: A special thank you to everyone who made the trip possible

Before I sign off, we have made a short film from our South Shields beach day – please do give it a watch and share across social media! You can watch it here.

Thanks for reading, see you next week to find out how the Sunshine Zipline went!

Sophie X