Dons Local Action Group Getting Busier All the Time

Charity founded during Covid finds expanded role as cost of living soars

Dons Local Action Group have delivered 5.5 million meals since March 2020. Picture: Dons Local Action Group
Dons Local Action Group have delivered 5.5 million meals since March 2020. Picture: Dons Local Action Group

December 14, 2023

In one of London’s most affluent towns lies a hidden problem of poverty that’s growing all the time. By the sorts of statistical measures used to decide the UK and London’s most deprived areas, Wimbledon doesn’t stand out.

Colour coded visuals that show the neighbourhoods where most people are income deprived would have you believe the streets are paved with gold in the South West London town, where the average house price is over £800,000.

But while the south eastern half of Merton, including Mitcham and Morden, seem on the surface to be where more people are struggling, the whole borough is crying out for help as the cost-of-living crisis changes the profile of poverty.

People are struggling to keep their heads above water with food, mortgages, rent and car running costs spiralling, and many people are going without basics to pay their bills. Like the woman awaiting a hip operation forced to sleep bent into an awkward shape on a sofa so her child can use the only decent mattress they own.

Or the children unable to keep pace with their classmates at school because they don’t own a laptop. This is where Merton’s Dons Local Action Group comes in, and they’re getting busier all the time.

The group has warned that “poverty doesn’t look like it might have done in the past”. They’re providing laptops, food, mattresses, bedding and furniture to people who can’t afford it.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Dons Trustee and Co-founder Xavier Wiggins said, “One of the big causes we’re looking to help with is that 22% of the UK population are in food poverty. Since launching in March 2020, we have distributed food for 5.5 million meals, 3,300 laptops, and thousands of items of furniture.

“We find if you haven’t got food, you often don’t have many other basics. We get lots of beds and mattresses for people. We had a lady awaiting a hip operation in a fair bit of trouble. She was physically in need and sleeping bent up on a sofa because they only had one mattress which her child was using.”

Haydon the Womble joined the most recent sleep out Credit: Dons Local Action Group
Haydon the Womble joined the most recent sleep out. Picture:Credit: Dons Local Action Group

The charity was born during the pandemic after three fans of AFC Wimbledon football club – nicknamed The Dons – and friends decided to help the local community with whatever it required. However, the immediate issue of COVID leaving some out of work and short of money has evolved into a longer-term cost of living crisis.

Xavier said, “When I first sent that WhatsApp message on the 15th of March 2020 saying we ought to do something, I didn’t have any preconceptions about what we should do. Pretty quickly it became clear that people thought we should help with food. At the time it was about COVID and people who were isolated and lost their wages.”

On any given day they have 100 people out and about in the community doing different things for Dons Local Action. These range from volunteering to wipe data from old laptops to be donated to new owners, to marketing and distributing donations. While they have three paid staff members, it’s the army of 2,700 volunteers they have registered with them who ensure they can keep the growing operation moving.

One of the biggest fundraisers for the group is its annual Big Sleep Out at AFC Wimbledon’s Plough Lane stadium which aims to highlight the issue of homelessness in one of the country’s most affluent areas. In its third year, it has raised over £30,000 this year alone, and garnered support from celebrities. On X (formerly Twitter) Alistair Campbell wrote, “Met Dons Local Action Group volunteers this week, aiding the community in poverty. Sad we need them, but let’s support by joining or sponsoring the Big Sleep Out 3.”

Xavier said, “We had 65 people sleeping out, that included the full AFC Wimbledon management team, including coach Johnnie Jackson. We also had Haydon the Womble, and former Merton mayors Joan Henry and Michael Brunt as well as lots of fans getting involved. There’s a lot of goodwill in the community. A lot of people now see Dons Local Action as their charity, trying to go out and address the balance a little bit.”

The group now works in tandem with Merton Council which offers support in publicising its work and events, while directing its volunteers to those who may need help. Xavier said, “We’re able to mobilise quickly. It’s a two-way relationship that is very healthy. They are out on the streets, they know who really needs help, and sometimes we’re asked to support people they know.”


Harrison Gallivan, Local Democracy Reporter