The overarching goal of the Community Plan is to build social capital in Merton to improve the resilience and wellbeing of our communities and neighbourhoods. Social capital is about creating a shared sense of responsibility and the ways in which communal activity can benefit everyone. It is about shared values and co-operation, building trust and reciprocity.
Merton continues to have a thriving voluntary and community sector and a long history of partnership working across the public, voluntary and private sectors.
There are already many of examples of social capital in action highlighted throughout this plan, which showcase the types of activity that the Community Plan is looking to build on and strengthen.
As well as more structured groups and activity, social capital can include more informal examples of sociability, for example the extent to which residents interact with one another on a day to day basis in their community, or how much people know, or feel like they could rely on their neighbours if they needed them. An area with low social capital might mean that people don't talk to, or know their neighbours, leading them to feel more isolated.
Evidence suggests a strong link between high social capital and better outcomes, be it lower crime rates, a reduced reliance on services, better physical and mental health and wellbeing, lower levels of loneliness and isolation, and stronger community cohesion. An area with high levels of social capital is likely to be a place where people take time to volunteer, has high levels of civic engagement such as turning out to vote and has lots of different places where people can meet.
To support the development of the Community Plan, an evidence base has been developed to measure the existing levels of social capital on a ward-by-ward basis and to give the Merton Partnership a baseline from which to work. This will enable the identification of areas with high social capital; existing community assets and good practice that can be tapped into as well as areas with lower social capital; places where the Merton Partnership can be proactive at trying to strengthen existing assets as well as developing new projects.
The evidence base uses 24 ward based indicators which have been aggregated to give a score for each ward across five domains of social capital:
- social infrastructure e.g. parks and community facilities
- Civic participation e.g. voter turnout
- Volunteering e.g. with a community group
- Informal sociability e.g. greeting neighbours by name
- Social trust e.g. willingness to go out after dark
For each ward a series of outcome measures, such as educational attainment, employment rate, life expectancy and crime rates was also produced and compared against the level of social capital in each ward.
This highlighted that the lowest scoring wards for both levels of social capital and positive outcomes are in the east of the borough in Mitcham and Morden, emphasising the need to build social capital in these areas and bridge the gap in outcomes between the east and west of the borough.
However, scoring wards in this way also enables us to recognise that different areas have different strengths on which to build and reveals that even in the most deprived wards social capital can flourish. For example, Cricket Green ward in Mitcham has one of the highest scores for informal sociability in the borough.
Merton Giving helps businesses back local voluntary sector
Merton's business community is playing its part in backing the work of the local voluntary sector and helping reduce inequality through the Merton Giving charitable venture.
Since it was set up by Merton Chamber of Commerce and Merton Voluntary Services Council (MVSC) in 2018, Merton Giving has been a focal point to enable local businesses and the voluntary sector to work together to mutually benefit the community.
It raises money by encouraging businesses in the borough to take part in a variety of initiatives, including its Merton Giving Week in December, which saw dozens of local businesses hold a wide range of fundraising activities.
In July last year, the Merton Giving Fund allocated its first round of grant funding, which benefited 20 local voluntary sector organisations tackling a range of issues including poverty, exclusion, mental health, loneliness and isolation.
These included Mitcham-based Inner Strength Network CIC, which provides coaching and training to women and girls and their families to overcome difficult moments in their lives.
The charity had identified a number of vulnerable 10-15-year-old girls who were in need of extra support and through Merton Giving funding, it was able to run a series of empowerment sessions for them.
These girls were given the opportunity to develop their self-confidence with a focus on self-esteem, body confidence, staying safe online, healthy relationships and leadership skills.
A standout moment from the sessions was a 10-year-old girl having concerns about loneliness. It was her fear that other girls her age would also feel lonely.
Maureen Bailey, CEO at Inner Strength Network, wanted to create a safe space for all ethnicities to express their concerns without judgement or fear: "Our team continues to find a platform to enable young girls to find their voice in the community we serve. There is a need to continue to nurture and inspire leadership even at a young age in a safe environment, without judgment," she said.
By the end of these sessions, the young girls were empowered, confident, assertive and ready to be leaders. This project did so much to help families who have been placed at a disadvantage, have been discriminated against or faced injustice.
At the end of 2019 Merton Giving secured five years of funding from City Bridge Trust to enable it, through lead partner MVSC, to continue to change lives in the community.
In January, 11 local organisations were told they will have a share of Merton Giving's £10,000 Winter Grant Fund pot. Grants, ranging in value from £500 - £1,000, have gone to groups helping address isolation and loneliness in Merton.
In response to the Covid19 pandemic, Merton Giving launched a fundraising campaign for a specific Coronavirus Fund to help affected organisations. When everyone has faced challenges that were unimaginable just a few short weeks beforehand, collaboration has never been so important.
Its Coronavirus Fund attracted donations from the Wimbledon Foundation, Clarion Futures, the Moat Foundation/Pollards Hill Community Committee and Merton Council. Donations from the community also helped raise more than £20,000.
After six weeks of funding rounds, 44 organisations affected by the pandemic had received grants totalling more than £98,000.