Residents in Merstham, Surrey, led activities and projects in the area in order to tackle their priorities, which are: parks and green spaces; activities for local people; digital inclusion; and mental health

Several people gather in a community garden

In Surrey, there are small pockets of disadvantage which are hidden by relative affluence around it. Even within Merstham itself there is vast inequality. Through the Local Conversation, people are being given opportunities they might have not had otherwise to make decisions, lead on initiatives and ultimately lead happier and healthier lives.

Residents led on activities including a Repair Café, allotment, community cash box small grants panel and a parks and greens conservation group. The Local Conversation website provided a resource for people to access local information and to promote the work of individuals and groups. The content has the benefit of ensuring people involved in the programme are valued and what they are doing is important. Residents have recently identified the increased need in the community for local and accessible mental health support and have set up a peer lead Mental Health support group for residents, they are also working on a toolkit people can take away containing information on improving wellbeing and how to access services to support them with their mental health.

As well as regular activities the Local Conversation also established a campaigning group. Residents expressed an interest in learning more about politics and explained they don’t vote because they don’t always understand what the parties stand for, what the powers of those elected are and how it affects their lives.

Following some training at the community hub, volunteers organised a hustings event ahead of local elections with representation from all the local parties. The event gave residents the platform to speak about issues that are important to them and showed that the local politicians valued the area. During Covid-19 lockdowns this developed into an online group which holds regular ‘Questions for Councillors’ sessions holding local politicians to account addressing local issues and more widespread concerns such as tackling speeding restrictions in Merstham.

Another project was the Repair Café which boasts a number of volunteer repair experts who get together on the first Wednesday of each month to help repair people’s possessions, and provide advice if items can’t be mended.

The Local Conversation continues to work towards addressing its main priorities.

Merstham is a very active community and the local conversation has given residents the means to get involved with activities and events encouraging motivation to challenge power, make decisions and influence things that matter.

Charlotte Emery

Project Lead

Funded by People’s Health Trust using money raised by Health Lottery South East