Surrey is filled with nothing but picturesque chocolate box villages nestled alongside secret walks through the county’s vast green belt – or at least it is if you believe the Hollywood movies.

For most people, the reality is very different, and the latest child poverty statistics paint a stark picture. Nearly a third of all young people in some parts of Surrey live below the breadline – even before housing figures are taken into account.

Sheerwater had the highest rates of child poverty in the county. Nearly 30 per cent of all children up to 15 years old living in Sheerwater, Woking, are growing up in poverty.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) went to the area to speak with those who have called Sheerwater their home, to learn what they would like to see happen. 

LDRS also spoke to charity HomeStart Runnymede and Woking to better understand the impact where nearly one in three children live in poverty.

Sheerwater emerged as a distinct community after the Second World War when families were decanted from the east end of London. In 2017, Woking Borough Council decided to regenerate the village – as parts had been left untouched for more than half a century.

It was seen as a good opportunity to breathe life into the rows of shops along the main strips that had become run down and in need of repair. The project never fully materialised, with families uprooted too soon and key areas left untouched.

Not only is child poverty the highest in Surrey, its community is fractured. Michael Betcheler and Kaitleen Snelling were headed to Asda with their two children.

The couple said: ”One resident bought a trampoline and Thamesway (the look after developments for the council) took it away and dismantled it saying ‘you can’t have one in the communal garden’.

“There needs to be more facilities here, library, shops and parks. There is no new doctors surgery, so we will just have to wait longer for an appointment. The doctor’s surgery had been part of the new redevelopment, but now they are making that into flats.”

Agnes Kwiatkowska, used to live in Dartmouth Avenue and echoed that more could be done to create a sense of community.

She said: “I would like to see more green spaces and more benches, I can’t find any benches to rest. I used to walk along the canal, it’s so lovely but when you need to stop to rest or just to admire nature, there is nothing.

“I moved to the UK about eight and a half years ago and I was blessed to be able to find a place to live in Sheerwater. I never felt it was a dangerous area but it’s still viewed as that though. It's not seen as a nice place to live, so they place people without much money here.

“We could have community planting, Wisley Gardens are nearby. We need to rebuild the community, engage doctors,health centres and shop owners to all come together somehow.”

Sarah Beasley is the scheme director at Homestart Runnymede and Woking. A charity and community network of trained volunteers and support, that help families with young children through challenging times. She said there has been a surge in need recently leading to a change in how they run the service.

“Over the last two and a half years we’re making more than double the number of referrals to food banks,” Sarah said. 

“There is also a lot more crisis work than before. Normally, work is very planned and measured but we’re getting so many referrals now where we can’t even wait the three or four weeks it usually takes. Now we get cases where we know they are running out of food that day.

“We got a call a few months ago, somebody had phoned Woking Borough Council saying they had £2 left and 30p in metre and were told to try us. We managed to get her an emergency parcel and fuel top up.

“Families that are already barely managing and are suddenly hit, families that don’t have the cushion of savings.” It’s often impossible to shield children from the impact, they are aware that they don’t have enough in their family.

“Poverty in areas that aren’t poor has a long term impact on a child’s development. You’re surrounded by wealth or relative wealth, with your classmates not in the same situation. They are aware that their parents and families are going without meals. The socialisation they need isn’t happening, as even going to a toddler group at £2 a week is too expensive.

“Parents can’t afford bus fares to get to nursery or the doctors – all these things cost a little bit but can cost a little bit too much. It can also have an impact on the parents and their mental health. We don’t know the long term impact yet on the children.”

In the run up to the election, prospective MP candidates for Woking were contacted about the levels of child poverty in Sheerwater and how they would address the issue. Nataly Suzana Anderson (Green), Richard Godwin Barker (Reform UK) and Ese Erheriene (Labour) did not get back with a comment.

Will Forster said: “Every child deserves the best possible start in life and the opportunity to flourish, no matter their background or personal circumstances. It’s not acceptable in 21st century Woking and Britain that children are living in poverty. 

“The Liberal Democrats and I will extend free school meals to all children in poverty, with an ambition to extend them to all primary school children when the public finances allow.

“We will give parents genuine flexibility and choice in the crucial early months by doubling Statutory Maternity and Shared Parental Pay to £350 a week and introducing an extra use-it-or-lose-it month for fathers and partners, paid at 90% of earnings. We will make all parental pay and leave day-one rights, and extend them to self-employed parents.”

Conservative Jonathan Lord said: “Sheerwater is a fantastic community but also an area with challenges.The Council recently built a new swimming pool and leisure centre there (the Eastwood Centre).

“But the Council also needs to ensure that the Sheerwater Health Centre building (that it owns) is improved and refurbished as a matter of urgency. I took the Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, there only last week to highlight this.

“Key measures to really tackle poverty across Surrey and England, including sustainable transformation that will ‘stick’ over the long term, include helping people off welfare and into decently paid jobs, improving educational outcomes, and encouraging stable families.”

Heritage Party candidate Tim Read said: “Immediately we would look to reduce the cost of living by cutting the cost that goes onto everything – food, transport, clothing etc.That cost is energy. 

“We would do this by stopping NetZero, and ending green rent charging for uneconomic energy generation schemes. Next, we would stop the mass migration enabled by visas which is putting pressure on the availability, cost and quality of housing. 

We would remove most quangos and government funded NGO organisations that transfer wealth from the population to rich middle class progressives at the cost of a high tax burden on the general population.”