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report on Merton Community Wellbeing event on 10 July 2023

“It’s all about the community, isn’t it?”

“I’ve heard they’re thinking of seeting up badminton. I’d be really interested in that. I’m going to tell my mates.”

“It’s good for the mental health!”

“I’ve learnt more information about the benefits system that could be relevant to me and my partner cos he’s been seriously ill”.

Our Aims:

  • To give people the chance to find out more about their local community groups and services
  • To share information about where to go for advice
  • To inspire people to take up new opportunities and make new friends
  • To give people the chance to talk to local council representatives
  • To provide networking opportunities to local organisations and services

The event was held in the The Clinton Hall, Merton with risk assessments in place. It is our sixteenth event since Jan 2018, and was the seventh community event we have organised as easing of Covid restrictions has allowed.

Summary figures

 124 people were involved in the event including:

  •  32 stallholders
  •  27 organisations represented
  •  62 members of the public
  • 14 schoolchildren

1. Stallholder evaluation

We asked stallholders for their evaluation on the value of the event. Of the responses we received:

  • 94% felt they had expanded on their knowledge of other services available
  • 89% felt encouraged to engage with other services as a result
  • 100% felt they had useful exchanges with members of the public
  • “Really positive. Have been to a few similar events and they can be quite quiet whereas this had a real ‘buzz’ about it.”
  • “Great conversations with other local services and hopefully we will work together.”
  • “I have chatted to -and helped-more members of the public than I ever have at any event.”
  • “This is what our Hall needed to generate awareness. Loved it!”

2.  Public response

Everyone, public and stallholders alike, commented on the sense of community in Merton. People mentioned what a wonderful venue The Clinton Hall was. We had a significant number of stalls from groups based in the local community, and number of ideas for new groups wanting to set up.

Attendees at our event were very positive about what they took away from it:

  • “A good variety of things.”
  • “There’s a lot more than I expected.”
  • “We’ve had nothing to look forward to. I’ve been isolated until now. It’s been really great to think we can come and meet people”
  •  “It’s a nice vibe!”
  • “It’s good, getting the local community together.”
  • “I discovered things today that I didn’t know about and will help me.”
  • “I wasn’t aware of the clubs that went on.”

3.  How well did it work?

Stallholder evaluation highlighted a number of positives from the event. Comments included:

  • “Very well organised and attended.”
  • “Lovely community spirit!”
  • “Good mixture of organisations/groups. Particularly good to have very local ones.”
  • “Excellent venue. Great networking opportunities.”
  • “People engaged well…pasties helped!!”
  • “Really friendly and welcoming; lots of people to speak to.”

Public footfall was not huge, despite publicity on social media and posters. We also used the local Merton magazine and postered in neighbouring villages of Dolton, Beaford, Petrockstowe, and in Hatherleigh. The village primary school did an excellent job of supporting and publicising the event. Most of the school attended to sing to us, which was the first part of our event and set a very upbeat tone! Those members of the public that attended were impressed by the range of services present and appreciated the effort people had gone to in taking part in the event. It was clear from some conversations being had that people really valued the chance to come out and see what was going on. For some people that was going to make a positive fundamental change to their lives, whether it be in guidance as to how to apply for a disabled badge or join some friendly faces for a board game.

4.  Participants

WisermoneyWDCVS
Tarka TreatsMerton Short Mat Bowls
Citizen’s AdviceElska Yoga
Torridge Team ChurchesSantosha Healing Space
One Small StepWren Music -Singing for Wellness
Home InsteadIlfracombe Community Transport
Devon and Cornwall PoliceFusion Rehabilitation
Hook and YarnTTVS
Learn DevonThe Clinton C of E Primary School
Early Nourishment CICFarming Community Network
Devon CarersTorridge District Council Councillors Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin and Chris Wheatley
The Clinton Hall, MertonCitizens In Policing
Friends of The Clinton Hall, MertonSew Creative

5.  Learning and thanks

We felt that we offered a wide range of stalls for people to peruse, which was a view supported by the public and stallholders alike.

We would like to offer thanks to Councillors Chris Wheatley and Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin who kindly agreed to open the event for us and stayed to engage with the public and stallholders. Also Julie Finch who was a powerhouse in the kitchen and without whom we couldn’t have kept the supply of refreshments going! To Tyler for organising everyone in firm style to clear the hall afterwards.

And special thanks go to Lyndsey Bolton and the Clinton Primary School pupils for visiting en masse to sing to us and provide a shot of energy into the room!

People who attended engaged with stallholders, and information was taken away to share with others. There was also a sense that some people just wanted to come along to meet others in a community space. There was also an appreciation of the valuable resource the community has in The Clinton Hall.

It is clear that post-Covid lockdowns, in rural areas particularly, people have got out of the habit of coming out and doing things. There is still a concern over Covid, but more of a concern that people have lost their social confidence and slipped into isolation as a normal way of being. A number of people commented on how they had lost the sense of having something to look forward to. Comments like that emphasise how important it is to go into rural parts of our project, even if huge numbers of people don’t attend. The people that do, get a clear lift and value from coming. Transport was flagged as an issue for many people, especially to join social events. The fact that the community no longer has a shop at all was flagged by both school pupils and adults alike as a serious lack within the community.

The other factor that emerged was the difficulty of publicising via social media. Many village Facebook pages only admit people to the group if they live in a small postcode area relative to the village. It isn’t possible to explain what you want to do and how it will benefit people in their village. This meant in one community where Facebook access was denied, where there is no village shop or unlocked notice board to poster onto, there is no evident space for the community to exchange ideas or events outside of a digital platform. This must contribute towards the social isolation of people – particularly older members of the community.

Lots of feedback pointed to the enjoyment of having the school involved actively in our event, and we feel this is really key to making something work well. Someone suggested a table plan for stallholders to identify organisations they might want to approach, which is a good idea.

We feel that the event went very well. The atmosphere was very positive and people were happy to chat. The venue was excellent. Some stallholders engaged more than others, and we can always hope for more members of the public. However, for a rainy day in Merton, I think we all felt that the event went well and was valued by all who took part.

For more information, please contact Julie Matthews  julie@navigatecharity.org.uk or Billie Burnett   billie@westdevoncvs.org.uk

Transitions’ is a National Lottery funded project operating over West Devon and Torridge, now in its seventh year. It offers free debt and money advice to people who are isolated by circumstance or geography. It seeks to boost community resilience by hosting community wellbeing events across rural communities in partnership with West Devon CVS.