Epsom voices: It’s a lovely place – but many feel excluded

This Neighbourhood Voices conversation comes from Epsom, just on the Surrey side of the Surrey-London boundary

The group consists of just a small group of four: Jane and Ashley from the team at Epsom Pantry, and two of the members, Maureen and Arnold.

Epsom Pantry is run by Good Company, a local charity working to lead the community towards a poverty-free future, while supporting local people. It has been involved in numerous area of work, including running a Poverty Truth Commission.

The discussion at the Pantry touched on the positive aspects of living in Epsom, some of its challenges, and people’s hopes for the future.

What do you cherish or like about Epsom?

Arnold“It’s quite a safe area, quite a nice area. It’s a nice little town. We’ve been here eight years, and it’s not changed much in that time.”

Maureen“We go to Lidl for our shopping, and come here as well.”  

Arnold“Epsom is famous for the races, it’s the home of the Derby and there’s a lot of racing throughout the year. Hospitality businesses look forward to the races.”

What are some of the challenges?

Jane: “When I first came here, in the 90s, it was more of a Surrey market town, but now I feel it’s more of a suburb of London. It’s been named in the papers as one of the places people move to, from London. If they’ve had a flat in London, they can buy a house here. There’s a lot of young families here now, which is nice. 

“There’s quite a disparity that you would not expect in Surrey. In London, you know it’s divided, some with lots of money and some with less. It’s just as bad here. There’s a lot of people with a lot of money, and some very expensive things, but some with very little.

“I think sometimes knowing where to go for help is an issue. Through Good Company, we have set up some advice hubs based in churches and we are trying to get to more people, if they need help – we have Citizens Advice here every other week, for instance, and that’s well used. People can just go into the hubs and get help.”

What issues are people concerned about in the Pantry?

Jane: “Since Covid, the issues have been pretty consistent – people are worried about energy, food, their families, worrying how they will manage if something like the car breaks down and they need to fix it. 

“The Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) are also an issue here. If people want to go into London and have older vans, that’s been a big issue, and a lot of people are quite angry. 

“At Good Company, we have had to work really hard over the last few years to get other agencies on board to get more joined-up thinking. When I first came here, it was more of a community. We have seen more houses now and it’s quite a big area, and I think a lot of people and groups are trying to bring community back. Since Covid, lots of streets now have their own WhatsApp groups as well, so that helps people keep in touch.”

Looking to the election – what issues would you like to hear candidates talking about?

Arnold“It doesn’t matter which Government is in power – they’re not going to please everyone all the time. A lot of what they do is to protect business, that’s what runs the country, so they do what they can and hope it filters down to the little man.”

Jane: “I would like the new Government to tackle the housing crisis. It’s been going on for years, but it’s getting to the point now where people cannot afford to live. Rents are astronomical. There’s no new social housing or affordable housing.

“Why are we normalising food banks? We are all used to them, but why? They should not be normal! People should be able to buy food.”

Arnold“People want to buy crime down – but how? How do you bring things down? How do you stop random attacks?”

Ashley“The issue I’m most faced with is immigration – there’s been a big change by this Government, especially with spouse visa requirements. It used to be that you needed to earn £18,600 but they’re going to make it £38,700 each. It might be realistic for some people and areas, but for a lot of areas it’s not. 

“We have a whole arm at Good Company that works with refugees, and the area of immigration is where I would most like to see a change. I’m from Austin, Texas, and I’ve been here six months, as my husband is English. 

“One of the best things here is the free medical care, when you get sick. I think it’s so lovely here, it’s such a quaint place. I got public transport then an Uber to get from Croydon to Epsom, and was just seeing how beautiful it was all the way, then seeing the clock tower. I love how walkable everything is here. Everyone is really friendly, it’s a great community. “

What are your thoughts and hopes for the future?

Maureen: “I just want the kids not to be in difficulty or trouble. All our kids are working and grown up now – we brought them up well.” 

Arnold: “You just grow up to what the world will become. You can’t do anything about it. I think there’s discussion of a lot of issues and heated discussions.” 

Ashley“With ULEZ expanding, it would be good to see more public transport here. Being better connected would be brilliant.”

Jane“I would like to see it a bit greener here. Where we are, you step outside and all the pollution is there, and it’s not good for the area. I’d like better public transport links, and would like to see it a bit greener, and we don’t have many charging points for electric cars. 

“We are lucky here. It’s a nice place to live, but I think some people in the Pantry feel excluded from that, because they are not in a nice situation financially, or they’re struggling for housing.

“I think sometimes, because it’s quite a wealthy area, people can feel even more excluded than if they were living in London or somewhere else where there are lots of people struggling. When the food bank first opened, people could not believe it – a food bank in Surrey! – and more than 10 years on, it’s been normalised.”

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