Summer and Autumn 2017

The challenge

There were six wards in the south of Merton and the north of Sutton which were felt to have cohesion risks. We were asked to help the councils to understand the extent and causes of these risks, identifying assets that might help cohesion, and developing ideas for interventions.

How we approached it

We did primary research mapping networks and connectedness, and identifying those who were isolated or alienated. We mapped perceptions of change, trust in the council, perceptions of identity and potential clashes of values. Interviewers also carried an ‘ethnographic toolkit’ noting qualitative observations and conversations with residents – and there were depth interviews with stakeholders including faith leaders, voluntary groups, chairs of bodies, and councillors.

This was complemented by secondary research about changes to the area in recent years, which we using postcode analysis from our partners Origins.

What happened

The research area is a microcosm of many suburban areas of the capital, which are transforming in social, economic and demographic terms. The wards were suburban but changing fast; they felt like ‘poor relations’ to other parts of the respective boroughs, and had lower cohesion and trust. Understanding the nature of change was central to understanding the threats and opportunities influencing community cohesion in the area.

Whereas organisations often don’t spot the cohesion challenges attached to change until they’ve happened, the ultra-local nature of the project, the emphasis on partnership working, and the range of different insight types allowed latent ingredients like high change and low place-identity to be identified early on. This provided both an evidence base and set of assets and tools to build cohesion across the six wards and the wider boroughs – allowing a more preventative cohesion approach.