Community Needs

Our first task was to identify where the local community needs in Southwark reallyReport cover image exist. Community Southwark, with funding from United St Saviour’s Charity, Team London Bridge, The Wakefield and Tetley Trust and City Bridge Trust, commissioned Dr. Cat Walker, Founder of The Researchery, to look at the needs of our borough – Southwark.

This research was the first step in setting up the place-based giving scheme: ‘Southwark Giving’.

The Researchery is an independent research consultancy for the voluntary sector. Cat has worked in the UK voluntary sector for the last 17 years, from running small community organisations to working with two of the leading infrastructure bodies in the sector: Charities Aid Foundation where Cat was Head of Research from 1999–2006, and Directory of Social Change where Cat was Head of STEAM (Sector Trends Evidence Analysis & Metrics 2010–2015). Cat is an experienced freelance researcher with particular expertise in the funding environment for the UK voluntary sector.

What did we find?

Well, from our research we’ve found that Southwark has a rich history and has had a modern makeover. Once the Thameside ‘larder of London’ and home to brothels, immigrant workers and theatre people, Southwark is now home to the glittering riverside with more London redevelopment planned. Southwark is, however, a borough of contrasts with high levels of inequality leading to the conclusion that there are two Southwarks – one where people have better life chances and one when they have worse.

The two Southwarks don’t have a geographical basis but Southwark has pockets of both poverty and deprivation. The borough contains eight neighbourhoods which are classified as being in the bottom 10% most deprived in the country, (in East Walworth, South Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Nunhead, Livesey and Camberwell Green). It also contains some of the least deprived areas in the country (e.g. Riverside, Surrey Docks and Dulwich Village).

A local charity said: ”The difference between affluent and deprived areas is becoming more prominent in Southwark, with areas on or near the river and in the south becoming increasingly unaffordable, whilst the areas in the middle of the borough are becoming more deprived”.

We’ve found that redevelopments and new businesses attract higher earners to some areas which strengthens the local economy but leaves others stagnating. While average earnings in Southwark have risen this has not benefitted all workers. Nearly one third of households in Southwark earn less than 60% of the national average income after housing costs; this is the fifth largest proportion of households in inner London boroughs. 4,509 individuals received help from the Southwark foodbank in 2013/14 (roughly 1.6% of the borough’s total population).

Poverty is not the only decider of life chances and opportunities. Other issues can divide Southwark’s residents into ‘two cities’ based on: gender, age, ethnicity, income, housing, health, wellbeing, education, employment, and membership of a minority group.


To carry out the research the following methods were used:

  • A review of the literature and figures available on Southwark’s existing needs
  • An online survey of 847 local Southwark voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations who are members of Community Southwark (94 organisations took part in the survey)
  • Four focus groups with invited local VCS representatives of different issue areas (children and young people; older people; mental health and a mixed group representing community centres, CAB and a community activist)
  • Interviews with 13 local VCS representatives covering issue areas such as health and wellbeing, specific BME groups, tenants and residents’ associations, refugees and asylum seekers

The report: A Tale of Two Southwarks

The research was compiled into a needs report: A Tale of Two Southwarks. You can see the full report in sections here.

Here are a few interesting statistics from the report:

  • Southwark is the third largest London borough in terms of population
  • The population of Southwark is expanding, with a high birth rate, low death rate, and high inflow of immigrants
  • Southwark has a young population (average age: 34.2 years)
  • Southwark is a multi-ethnic borough with almost half the community (47%) belonging to an ethnic minority
  • Southwark has the largest Black African population in the country
  • Over a hundred languages are spoken by children living in Southwark
  • Southwark is home to an increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers from around the world

Executive summary 

You can download an executive summary of the report here.
”Please note there is a printing error in the report (executive summary version) stating Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Charles Dickens were born in Southwark. They were not but both were very closely affiliated with the borough of Southwark.”