A LOCAL mental health charity was handed the keys to a new minibus yesterday which will enhance the services it offers its users.

SUNS – Service User Network Swindon – is run by service users for service users, providing them with opportunities to talk about their experiences and take part in fun activities.

Yesterday, the charity celebrated at Sandalwood Court after getting a nine-seater Mercedes bus, affectionately named Happy Days by the charity’s committee.

The purchase has been made possible thanks to a £25,000 grant from the Primary Care Trust.

This follows a successful funding bid which was supported by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust.

“The new mini-bus is fantastic news for mental health service users in Swindon,” said Ivor Burningham, Director of SUNS.

“It means we will be able to offer a wider variety of activities, such as art, photography, walks and hikes, and trips to locations further afield, such as the canal locks in Devizes and going on barge rides in Bath. We will also be able to go to community meetings and gatherings.”

The minibus will be based at AWP’s Sandalwood Court – an acute inpatient unit – and all bookings and administration will be managed through Sandalwood Court reception.

“The bus will also be available to other local mental health charities, carers groups or anybody with responsibility for supporting mental health service users,” said Ivor.

“SUNS will cover insurance and maintenance costs, groups will simply have to pay for the fuel they use.”

Kieran Holland, Modern Matron at Sandalwood Court, said: “We had a minibus for years, but it just got too old and too uneconomical to run. The new bus fits into the existing scheme but because it is new and more efficient to run. The range of activities and trips on offer will be better than before.”

SUNS and AWP have worked together for a number of years. AWP part-funds and supports SUNS’ ‘Swindon Listening Line’ – an out-of-office-hours phone service where service users and carers can talk about their worries and concerns, or simply off-load. It’s open 365 days a year, from 6pm to midnight, for people living in Swindon.

“There is a real strength in partnership working, particularly in the current economic climate,” said Kieran.

“It’s about bringing people together and making things happen for the benefit of others.”

To book the minibus, call Sandalwood Court reception on 01793 836800.