Corona Chronicles.

Mersham’s Graham Norris tells how he set up a uniquely humourous, quirky and inclusive FB group ‘Help in the Ham’.

March 2020, those last weeks before we plunged into the first full lockdown. A time of toilet roll shortages, supermarkets turning into dystopian film sets as panicked shoppers filled their trollies and when many, who felt themselves vulnerable, pre-emptied Boris and took themselves into self-isolation.

Changing, turbulent times brings forth the adapters, the innovators and those who simply wish to help, however which way they can. Graham Norris, a train driver from Merstham, Surrey was one of those.

On 13th March 2020. Norris was working, he knew the news was grim, that a lockdown, whatever that meant was coming and that the lonely and vulnerable would be hit the hardest. He wanted to bring his community together, in an easy and necessarily virtual, supportive way.

Whilst on his tea break at Bognor Regis, Graham was hit with a sudden brainwave. It would mean setting up something he had no experience of,

but was something he felt, could have an immediate effect. He quickly logged on and with the the press of a few buttons ‘Help in the Ham’ – which from the off was akin to a virtual old fashioned village pub, with its humour, in jokes and inclusive support was born.

Graham’s very first foray into the world of Social Media groups began.

“I wanted to do something for the community that I care about.” Norris explains, “this seemed to be the easiest way of bringing folk together.”

He began , simply by adding 30 of his local friends , asking them to spread the word and add their Merstham friends. “By the time I got to Three Bridge, an hour or so later, we were up to 300 members”. Graham recalls. Help in the Ham was the talk of the ‘ham. Almost a year on, it boasts 2,000 members, around a quarter of the village’s total population.

Help in the Ham written in the stars.

Social media sites can be a difficult beast. To prevent the cruel and vindictive, they can sometimes be mired in a bog of rules and instructions. Whilst necessary, they can detract and turn local community pages into dry noticeboards, which in a physical form would be littered with out of date fliers for amateur dramatic groups, charity fundraising events and missing cat fliers.

Norris wanted Help in the Ham to reflect the essence of its membership, be a place for chat and banter as well as offering the day to day advice, the problem being, to achieve this virtual village pub vibe, some rules and admin help were necessary.

” To be honest, it was becoming a struggle running HITH on my own. I asked group members, some of whom were friends to become admins. They have been incredible!  Between us, we came up with simple rules. No selling, no politics and no offensive posts.

Our mantra? If its not kind, doesn’t help anyone in the ‘Ham then don’t post it.”

“There is no way I could keep an eye and make sure people don’t post inappropriate stuff, if the admins hadn’t stepped up. Membership was growing so fast and with a full-time job and young family it was really difficult.”

The early posts on HITH were a microcosm of the national picture, being concerned with supermarket shortages, the unavailability of online slots and knock on effects for ‘hamers.

“One of the first posts I vividly remember,” recalls Graham, “was a young mum who couldn’t get milk for her very young baby. Within minutes of her post, several group members offered to deliver the milk she needed. I knew then that this was a valuable much needed group.” He pauses, but the post that stayed with him? “A Merstham dad posted a video asking for help with his shielded kids. This family were missing many things. It literally broke my heart. I was beaten to it by dozens of ‘hamers falling over themselves to help.”

” It made his kids day. And mine.”

These anxieties eased, as it became apparent the nations food supplies and toilet roll were intact; replaced by worries around home-schooling and all the uncertainty. Fear not though, ‘hamers rose to the fore. Local teachers offered advice and other ‘hamers tips on maintaining fitness, craft activities and also, quizzes and challenges.  Encouraging the membership to have a go at something new, rather like its founding member taking his first steps into running a fb group.

“It is so heart-warming,” says Graham, “to see local people reaching out to neighbours who needed it.  Many members described the group as a lifeline.”

Local Shops, pharmacies and GP surgeries took to the newly minted page, to provide their community with valuable information. This, also gave rise to the much repeated question: “Anyone know what time the co-op opens? The co-op question, as unifying to the ‘hamers as ‘We will fight them on the beaches…’ was to our Grandparents during WWII. Sightings of the delivery lorry, as it majestically sailed into the village were as joy inducing as the coca cola truck at Christmas. Who could have guessed that the humble co-op would be the in joke, in this virtual village pub that was firmly taking root.

The infamous and beloved Merstham co-op.

“I love living in Merstham” muses Graham. “It is a fab place to raise a family. I live by the rule that if you don’t like where you live either move or do you bit to make it better.”

Without a doubt, Help in the Ham has made Merstham a better place; neighbours have made friends with neighbours, it has united Merstham and provided a wonderful lifeline to all ‘hamers.”

“There have been so many ‘that’s what the group is all about moments.'” Says Graham with pride and perhaps still slightly surprised still at how it has inserted itself into the local’s lives.

“Christmas was particularly brilliant in providing that togetherness vibe. A member had a brilliant brainwave in organising an advent window trail. The creativity! The village looked wonderfully festive and welcoming and it gave families a focus to their daily walks.

Something that Norris may not have envisaged on that March day of almost a year ago, is how Help in the Ham became a driver for local democracy. Merstham councillors have found HITH provides an instant, yet neighbourly connection with their voters.

“Members can tag their two local representatives , alerting them to a plethora of local concerns including the blight of dog muck, broken pavements, potholes and all those other issues that communities up and down the land battle with. The page is a great way of ensuring local accountability. It isn’t all about the tag, it’s about who else sees the tag.There is, no hiding and the local councillors have response has been magnificent”.

And as to the future for Help in the Ham?

“I plan to keep the group going, to continue to help those in our community who need it and provide the advice, the general chit chat and the laughs. We are also joining up with the local neighbourhood watch group to allay fears about crime. Together we are stronger.”

Back in March 2020, Graham’s used social media as a consumer. As with many good ideas, HITH was a brainwave – he simply wanted to bring people together. His lockdown journey has seen him become a social media community champion and have daily dealings with the sublime to the ridiculous to the life affirming. Him and his admin team are true community heroes.

 It is easy to knock social media and the problems it can bring. Some sites can be harbingers of spite and doom, spreaders of fake news, a force for disunity and discord.

Help in the Ham is a nugget of gold amidst the sand and a beacon of inclusiveness, support and a unifier through humour and lightheartedness. Graham’s vision remains intact. Help in the Ham is a fine example of how social media sites should be. Not only is it a wonderful thing for Merstham, Help in the Ham can also hold its head high as a prototype for local fb pages up and down the land.

Find Help in the Ham on Facebook. It is open to all residents of Merstham, Surrey.

  • Its Back!

    30/06/2022 by

    Calling RB Writes Supporters. WRITI NG FINGERS AT THE READY! RB WRITES RETURNS THIS AUTUMN The 2022 Reigate & Banstead Writes competition will open for entries on 10th October. As before, young people aged 10-14 who live or go to school in the borough will be asked to write a 1,000 word story all about… Read more

  • Back to the ’80s. Calling Planet Earth at Dorking Halls.

    23/06/2022 by

    In the week Kate Bush dethroned Harry Styles from his number one spot, the current 1980’s ‘Back to the Future’ vibe was reinforced by ‘Calling Planet Earth’ at Dorking Halls. Calling Planet Earth is the show that defines a decade. For the uninitiated this may appear grandiose. But this New Romantic symphony is so much… Read more

  • The Chipstead Players present The Woman in White.

    24/05/2022 by

    The Chipstead Players are back with an ambitious adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel, The Woman in White.  It tells the story of the dashing Walter Hartright, (David Hall in his Courtyard debut). Who takes up the position of drawing master to Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian.  But he is troubled by the memory… Read more

  • Strictly Magic!

    17/04/2022 by

    Giovanni Pernice: The Hawth Theatre, Crawley – 16th April. It’s been a long wait for dance fans but strictly champion Giovanni Pernice has finaly quickstepped back to his ‘home town’ of Crawley with a wonderfully witty, energetic and sexy romp of a show.  Whilst it may not be for dance purists, Creative director and Choreographer… Read more

  • mountain ranges covered in snow

    Skiing. A novice’s review.

    21/03/2022 by

    Tale from the Town. Wanna try skiing and feel you’ve left it too late? Mary Garg may change your mind. “Its supposed to be slippy”… it’s a slippy sport. So said my ski instructor Gigi during my first ever Alpine ski lesson (my second lesson after I fell off the escalator at my local artificial… Read more

  • What to Watch: Peaky Blinders.

    04/03/2022 by

    The Shelby’s are back and out for vengeance. It was way back in 2013 that Peaky Blinders started cautiously on BBC2, before cementing its place as a distinctive, behemoth of British TV. On the way, it has become one of Birmingham’s best exports; up there with HP Sauce and Jack Grealish’s calves. Stylish, cinematic and… Read more


    21/01/2022 by

    AFTERLIFE – NETFLIX Afterlife, Ricky Gervais’s wildly successful foul-mouthed dark comedy that takes on the epic themes of love, loss and how we learn to start over has been seen in over 100 million households. Its success could explain why Gervais broke his 2-series only rule. The big question, can Afterlife 3 live up to… Read more

  • Goodnight Mr Tom presented by Chipstead Players.

    08/01/2022 by

    Goodnight Mr Tom. A packed courtyard theatre, hosting an audience consisting of the old to the young, who have made the trek out on a bitterly cold January evening, is testament to the enduring popularity of the 1981 book by Michelle Magorian. For those unfamiliar, Goodnight Mr Tom is in essence, the story of two… Read more


    12/12/2021 by

    Aladdin. The Harlequin Theatre, Redhill. Aladdin, one of the most magical tales ever told and after a two-year enforced absence, boy were the Harlequin pantomime lovers ready to be transported to the familiar bawdy world of pantomime via Aladdin’s Arabia. There was a palpable, excited fizz as the mask-wearing audience waited with bated breath for… Read more

  • Wimbledon To Richmond Park: A rural, capital walk.

    30/11/2021 by

    There is something slightly other-worldly, sitting on a tube, rucksack on back, clad in walking gear, heading off for a day’s hiking. Pulling on my battered muddy boots would normally mean a remote countryside walk, up hill and down dale, rather than a 7-mile walk through London’s outer suburbs. But, after a summer spent walking… Read more

  • Cultural Crumbs – November 2021

    10/11/2021 by

    RB Writes previews what we can look forward around RH1/2. THEATRE Chipstead Players Present On Golden Pond. On Golden Pond is currently showing on Broadway, its cast headed up by Hollywood actor James Earl Jones. The Chipstead Players, with their talented bunch of actors and crew may not perform their adaptation to a Broadway-sized crowd… Read more

  • Up The Junction

    25/10/2021 by

    The Junction and Sai Kitchen. Fine dining in the heart of Redhill. In a former life, I lived in an unfashionable area of North London. An area not known for culinary delights, or so I believed. For in the block of cafes, nail-bars and general stores at the end of my road lurked a superb… Read more

  • Fancy listening to our winning entries?

    03/10/2021 by

    Missed out on tuning in to SUSY last week? Fear not, by the marvels of modern technology we have the recordings all ready for you to listen to. Enormous thanks to David Jay for broadcasting them to the area via his afternoon stroll. Settle down with a cup of tea and listen in to the… Read more

  • Listen to our 2021 stories on Susy Radio this week

    27/09/2021 by

    David Jay’s afternoon stroll set to broadcast 2021 RB Writes winning story and runners up. Tune into SUSY Radio’s Afternoon Stroll this week (27th September), settle down with a cuppa and listen to the wonderful, quirky and thoughtful top three tales from the very talented finalists. The brilliant David Jay will broadcast the two runners… Read more

  • Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum

    12/09/2021 by

    Rebecca Biden Reviews Treasure Island presented by The Chipstead Players I had the pleasure of seeing Treasure Island preformed at Courtyard Theatre by the Chipstead Players Youth Theatre. The play was directed by Debra Elson and remarkably, took only ten days to put together. The beautifully designed set really drew you into performance and helped… Read more

  • It’s a Pirate’s Life For Me

    11/09/2021 by

    The Chipstead Players present Treasure Island. ‘Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum.’ The famous rousing pirate chant is more reminiscent of a celebratory songs from sporting crowds, as an audience, delighted to be back at the Courtyard Theatre, took their seats with the famous shanty ringing in their ears. We were eagerly anticipating… Read more


    30/08/2021 by

    West Highland Way. A walk through Scotland’s Mountains and Mists. The West Highland Way buzzes with a tangible magic along its 96 mile route between Milngavie and Fort William; especially after you cross the high/lowland divide and history, legend and folklore collide. As you traipse along the high-fern lined and wildflower filled trails that lead… Read more

  • And the winner is…..

    02/08/2021 by

    My Life In Reigate: A true Story is the 2021 winning story. My Life in Reigate: A True Story written by 10-year old Heidi Penrose Buckley, is the 2021 winning entry. Heidi is a pupil at Reigate Priory Junior School Her ‘zeitigisty’ story has an original narrator in Mishi the dog, Our judges praised her… Read more

  • A Guaranteed Escape this summer. Dive into a book.

    08/07/2021 by

    The forecast may be grim and we may not be heading off to the Costas. Don’t despair. There are plenty of bumper books to help you find a summer escape. For an old-fashioned mystery : ‘The Lamplighters’ by Emma Stonex. They say the sea keeps its secrets… Captivating Cornwall, remote and mysterious, it keeps its… Read more

  • Local youngsters have until 30th June to enter RB Writes

    08/06/2021 by

    There is still plenty of time to write a 1,000 word original story for this year’s Reigate and Banstead Writes Competition. The annual short-story competition for local kids aged 9-14 is open for entries until 30th June. Stories are beginning to trickle in and are as wonderful, quirky and imaginative as ever. Stuck for inspiration?… Read more

  • Youngsters showcase Reigate & Banstead through their stories about their towns.

    14/05/2021 by

    THE STORY OF REIGATE AND BANSTEAD WRITES: NOT JUST A STORY-COMPETITION “That must be a labour of love! and “Are you insane?” Comments I received in jest, or otherwise since establishing Reigate & Banstead Writes back in 2016. Whilst it has been one of the most satisfying and wonderful experiences of my life – 1,500… Read more


    18/04/2021 by

    Its almost time for our young writers to pick up their pens, IPADs or devices and write us a story all about where they live. Back in January, it felt impossible, thinking we could run Reigate & Banstead Writes in 2021. Schools closed and we were all existing in a scattered world. Schools re-opened and… Read more


    15/01/2021 by

    CULTURAL CRUSTS TO CUT THROUGH THOSE JANUARY BLUES. Even in non-covid times, January is often a cultural desert, with very few cultural crumbs to feast on after the excesses of December, when new books have been devoured and we watch enough Netflix to give us eyes the size of Samsung’s wall-sized screen. We are locked… Read more

  • A Christmas Playlist from RH1 with love.

    15/12/2020 by

    National treasures Ed and Elton v acid-tongued Craig Revel Horwood for the 2021 Christmas number one. That is not a wild flight of imagination. They hope to insert themselves into the nation’s festive heart with their brand new ditties. Like sprouts, some will love, some hate both. BUT it is a good opportunity to re-visit… Read more

  • RB Writes: Our Best Books of 2020.

    24/11/2020 by

    Hoping for a book for Christmas? Take a look at our guide to some of the best from 2020. The weather is dank and fairy lights are twinkling away brightening up windows and trees. Christmas is coming! Time to hunker down with a blooming good read and take a look at our guide to the… Read more

  • University beckons for the next generation.

    15/09/2020 by

    18 very short years ago, I became a mum. As I cradled my precious new born son day after day during our endless first summer, there was a dreamy trance like existence to our early months, perhaps because of sleeplessness but also taking in the enormous change that had hit me. My perfect calm little… Read more

  • Homesick for Ripon. Pandemic Hometown Blues.

    02/08/2020 by

    Corona awakens a need in many to be closer to our family and friends and gives a chance to examine the town that forged us and the roots that claim us. The welcome to Ripon signs which greet visitors and residents alike, urge us ‘to stay awhile amidst its ancient charms’. I may be a… Read more

  • Books At Bedtime?

    28/07/2020 by

    Books at Bedtime? Listen to David Jay of Susy Radio Fame read the 2020 winning stories from Reigate and Banstead Writes.

  • It’s all about the (RH) writers.

    20/06/2020 by

    We planned a number of exciting author and literature events as part of Fringe Week’. We look at three local writers who were set to feature. NIKI MACKAY Reigate’s very own ‘Queen of Crime’. Niki is going from strength to strength. In her words.. I am a writer and a bookworm. I studied Performing Arts… Read more

  • RH Fringe 2020

    30/05/2020 by

    Apollo Junction were due to perform at the Harlequin today (30th May) as the headline act for the first RH Fringe Rock and Write. Then along came a global pandemic and the rest is history. Events have been cancelled but we will return bigger and better in June 2021. We wanted to share the band’s… Read more

  • RH Recommended Reads.

    01/04/2020 by

    Bookworms know the power and comfort of a blooming good read. Power to distract and detract. Whether you are a book lover of dip in and out, why not try a recommended book from RH readers? Something for everyone I hope.  Feel free to comment and review… If you like historical… The Secrets We Kept… Read more

  • Blue Peter has spoken. Vashti Hardy wins. Wildspark is voted the best story 0f 2020.

    09/03/2020 by

    Vashti Hardy has won the best story at the Blue Peter 2020 Book Awards for her story Wildspark. Thanks to Reading Zone, Vashti is set to be guest of honour at the Reigate and Banstead Writes awards on Friday 19th June. The event, at the Harlequin Theatre Redhill, will celebrate the creativity, imagination and achievements… Read more

  • Sussex Author Vashti Hardy hosts Reigate and Banstead Writes Awards.

    28/02/2020 by

    Celebrated author of Brightstorm and Wild Spark will be MC at the awards afternoon on 19th June at the Harlequin Theatre, Redhill. Vashti Hardy is a writer of children’s books living near Brighton in Sussex with her husband and three teens Brightstorm “A fast-paced fantasy adventure that will set your imagination soaring!” was shortlisted for… Read more

  • RH Fringe: See Jane Eyre in the Castle Grounds, Reigate this June.

    23/02/2020 by

    RH Fringe in association with Reigate and Banstead Council welcomes this inspiring and energetic theatre company to Reigate this June. thisismytheatre a Sussex based theatre company bring their production of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel ‘Jane Eyre’ to Reigate. The production is part of a week long programme between 13-20 June that is the RH Fringe.… Read more


    12/02/2020 by

    Tickets for first event of the Fringe are on sale now! “A MUST SEE LIVE” – Daily Mirror “Magnificent” – The Sun Huge Anthems – Steve Lamacq BBC6 Music “Music is tremendous” – Graham Norton Apollo Junction are an anthemic, electro rock and roll band taking influences from Brit Pop to more modern times. Huge… Read more


    08/01/2020 by

    Local band Helve set to support Apollo Junction on 30th May for the Fringe Opener. The inaugural RH Fringe kicks off on Saturday 30th May. The Harlequin Theatre Redhill will host up and coming band Apollo Junction (set to support the Kaiser Chiefs, Madness and The Libertines later on this summer) for a charity gig… Read more


    07/01/2020 by

    It’s oh so quiet as we return to the working world after the Bacchus- like revelry of December. No money coupled with little energy quenches desire for any entertainment excepting flopping in front of Netflix, but yet: there are still a few cultural crumbs out there to tempt one out of the post ‘xmas stupour.… Read more


    27/12/2019 by

    Check out our little guide to what’s occurring around RH… 27th December 2019. We’re in the slumpy and fugue like state between Christmas and New Year, where time slows down and it is eminently acceptable to eat a Terry’s Chocolate Orange for breakfast. If you need some pepping up and feel like getting out and… Read more


    10/12/2019 by

    ANOTHER TRIUMPH FOR THE HARLEQUIN. ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is the pantomime of choice at Redhill’s Harlequin Theatre this year. The show includes some familiar faces if you’re attuned to the world of Strictly. Former stars James and Ola Jordan star as ‘Fleshcreep’ and the ‘Glitterball Fairy’. As you can probably imagine from his name,… Read more


    02/12/2019 by

    On your marks, get set and ready steady go for a busy cultural December. THEATRE That best of British cultural traditions – pantomime! This year’s offering at the Harlequin, Jack and The Beanstalk opens Friday (6th) for a month long run. James and Ola Jordan join the likes of Chesney Hawkes, Hairy Biker Dave Myers… Read more


    21/11/2019 by

    MUSIC The Cage, the live music venue in Reigate once again hosts Andrew Horseman and Billie Fox, 2/5 of the Redgate Renegades. Billie is a charismatic performer, their set comprises covers and original material in a slimmed down acoustic set.  Friday 22nd. Meanwhile, Saturday 23rd The Radars – fresh from a recent appearance at the… Read more


    10/11/2019 by

    Sara Wright reviews Excluded. It’s 2019, inner city London. Hamlet is grieving, Othello accused and Isabel forced against her will. Just some of the goings on at Cannon High as Shakespeare’s most iconic characters prepare to sit their GCSEs.


    07/11/2019 by

    SARAH CRIPPS WRITES… NORTHERN LIGHTS BY PHILIP PULLMAN The Dark Materials forms a cornerstone of BBC1’s autumn schedule and has been eagerly anticipated by fans of this other worldly series.  Some would call this risky business after the contentious 2007 film adaptation. The first episode was warmly received by critics and fans alike. Pullman’s rich… Read more

  • Book Corner – Lost by Eve Ainsworth

    22/10/2019 by

    Have you read anything by Eve Ainsworth yet? Eve is the author of several Young Adult books. Seven Days, her first title – was published  way back in 2015 by Scholastic. Her latest novel LOST is aimed at a slightly younger readership and is a beautifully written and tender account of a young boy dealing… Read more


    16/10/2019 by

    NADINE MOORE REVIEWS A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW BY AMOR TOWLES A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017 The story starts in 1922, where the genteel and most charming Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is under house arrest, in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel.  The Bolsheviks have seized power, the Aristocracy have been overthrown and our Count has… Read more

  • Cultural Crumbs 8 October

    07/10/2019 by

    CULTURAL CRUMBS – 8th October. MUSIC The Yard, Reigate Station, hosts the quite brilliant Acousticatz this Friday 11th October with support from Mark Milward. As ever £6 and BYOB. This superb venue and community space is well deserving of support from RH locals. It hosts a varied programme of events. RH music lovers know that… Read more

  • CULTURAL CRUMBS 23rd September.

    23/09/2019 by

    The weekly ‘cultural crumbs’ round-up giving you a snippet of whats on in RH. Cultural crumbs from RH: THEATRE  Tuesday 24th September: A day in the Death of Joe Egg opens at the Archway, Horley – the ‘thriving little theatre in the arches’. See below for what to expect. A dark comedy from an award-winning… Read more

  • Cultural Crumbs from RH.

    15/09/2019 by

    The Harlequin Cinema, part of the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill, re-opens after its refit tomorrow (Monday 16th) in its new guise as the Waller Studio. To celebrate cinema tickets are £5 this week. See website for further details. MUSIC The Redgate Renegades are bringing their eclectic mix of covers to the Cage, Reigate this… Read more

View all posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.