Little Rays of Sunshine

Great words from a colleague today which were: just write what you like and have fun doing it!

So, I’ve dredged up one or two of my favourite Bude articles from the part and rewritten them, so they’re still available for people to read. Starting with Bude based children’s charity, Little Rays of Sunshine.……

Maria Sturt is a grandma with a difference, for the Bude-based mother of five also quietly co-ordinates the activities of Bude-based charity, Little Rays of Sunshine.

The charity is all about supporting local children with special needs, enabling families to socialise and enjoy a variety of experiences with both their special needs children alongside their wider families. Children of all ages and their families are welcome, and the group reaches out to a variety of different special needs children, including those with autism and rarer conditions.

Grandmother to Jacob, aged 8 (or maybe 9 now) who has Down syndrome, Maria willingly took on his care after the sad and sudden death of her daughter, Karen, six years ago, in a road accident on the A39. Karen had, in 2003, at the tender age of nineteen, given birth to Jacob, her first child. She was young and Jacob has Down syndrome which must have been difficult for her, a first time Mum. However, she learned to cope admirably and her love for Jacob shone through. With guidance from the local Portage group, she lerned to teach Jacob Makaton sign language. She was friendly with her support workers and other parents, effectively and proactively establishing the beginnings of a support group before she died, for Karen, who had just passed her driving test was killed in a terrible accident on the A39 when her car was hit by a ‘runaway’ milk tanker.

A collection was held at Karen’s funeral, held at St Olaf’s Church, raising £1,100, and from there a support group for families was started, with many of the original members becoming really good friends. At that point, Maria took on the role of Treasurer. The inaugural meeting took place on 11th March, 2006, and really started in memory of Karen, as it was something her family felt she would have wanted to do herself.The ethos of the group is that it is for whole families, providing a safe environment which the children can enjoy. Maria realises that the demands of children with special needs can make life tough for their siblings,  as the special needs can become the focus of attention, so she wants to ensure she includes whole families in events.

Maria is at pains to explain that Little Rays is not a fund-raising group, but they have been very lucky that various local businesses and organisations have been generous in donating funds to pay for the group’s activities. She doesn’t wish to pick out any one organisation from another – some have big fun raising events, and others donate smaller amounts regularly. All are very much appreciated and vital. And sometimes, it is just goodwill that helps. When word had got around that the charity couldn’t afford a Christmas party, the Atlantic Diner stepped into the breach. Trevelgas Holiday park also offers use of their pool for swimming lessons in the holiday season.

The group has no geographical boundaries and embraces all children with special needs. Weekly meetings are held at Harlequins (where the special needs child has free admittance) and it is hoped to start a new project at Bude New Life Centre where games will be purchased for the youngsters to use (air hockey, Wii, etc) and where carers can also attend, giving families chance to meet other parents and discuss those sleepless nights, challenging babies/children or just simply to have a good chat/time out. The group organises other activities for families, depending on funds, such as an annual trip to Butlins, and one year, even a trip to Disney. Bury Motor Club adopted the charity this year, and they benefited from the Baby and Toddler Fair held back in April. The charity also has strong links with health professionals and wider support networks such as Cornwall Down Syndrome Support.

Maria feels that Jacob has been her own Little Ray of Sunshine, part of the healing process for the huge loss of her daughter. “Everyone loves him and he’s very entertaining“, she says. Luckily for Maria, she has a great network of local friends and a supportive husband, but has also appreciated support from Bude Christian Fellowship. She says that when Jacob was born their first thought was that they would never know the real Jacob but soon realised that “Jacob’s character is far bigger than his Down’s”. 

Unfortunately, there are still misconceptions out there in the world about children with disabilities. Conditions like Sotos syndrome, for example, can attract very unkind and derogatory comments which can upset both children and their families. Maria feels that Bude has so many children with Down syndrome that most people are quite used to it now, but other children are less fortunate in terms of people’s responses to them. It’s perhaps something that people need to be made aware of, but the group isn’t a campaigning one, it is there to ensure that Bude’s families with special needs children are able to access the support they need when they need it.

One of the key elements of group support is information sharing. For example, children’s needs change as they get older and it can be useful to talk with other parents who have older children. What is the best option for secondary education? What about when the children become adults? Maria praises Cornwall Council for their role in providing funding /supplies for the children. “Cornwall Council are terrific. We have been well supported by them and can’t fault them“. If you would like support from the group or to join them, or wish to fund raise on their behalf, please check out the Little Rays of Sunshine website.

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