What is a mutual aid group?
It’s probably you, and your neighbours, even if you don’t use the term!
A covid mutual aid group is a local community group organising to support people through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. It’s made up of neighbours in a geographical area who come together in solidarity to voluntarily:
a) support each other,
b) figure out each others needs and develop strategies to meet them,
c) meet vital community needs where this can be provided better by local people,
d) look out where needed for those most in need, and those marginalised by the system, and
e) build community in a bottom-up way that most services and organisations can’t do by their nature.
Where does the term mutual aid come from?
Mutual aid is arguably as ancient as human culture – people in every society in every time period have worked together to ensure their communities can survive. The term was popularised by the philosopher Kropotkin over a hundred years ago; he argued that cooperation not competition was the driving mechanism behind survival and evolution. Typically it is led by all participants and structured in a way to minimise hierarchy and bureaucracy, encouraging equity, democracy and participation, using shared leadership and cooperative decision-making.
Mutual Aid / Covid Support Groups in Calderdale
Each group is different depending on local context – some cover a wide area with a central phoneline you can call to offer or ask for help, others are a WhatsApp or Facebook group for people who live on the same street. Some groups have kept closer to a definition whereby people involved are neighbours first and foremost, helping each other out in a spirit of neighbourliness. Others have more induction processes to become a volunteer. Most people involved in the Calderdale groups are local residents taking part in a voluntary capacity, though often there are paid workers from local organisations or services involved as well, whose managers have allowed their role to shape-shift to meet needs in a way that works for local people. What they have in common is being by local people and for local people. Click here for a map of mutual aid groups in Calderdale
What does volunteering for a mutual aid group involve?
Everyone has something to offer to mutual aid, whether that’s delivering food parcels in your neighbourhood or making phone calls from home. Whatever way you decide to get involved, make sure you stay safe when volunteering during Covid-19.
Each group is different, but some of the ways people have been supporting each other include:
- Leafleting to reach people who are isolated and to raise awareness of the group
- Doing a shift answering a phone line for people to contact for support
- Getting more of your neighbours involved in the group
- Helping people when they are self-isolating or shielding – for example running errands, food shopping, collecting prescriptions or dog walking
- Phoning people who live on their own or are self-isolating and need a bit of company or a friendly chat
How to set up a Mutual Aid group
If there isn’t a group in your area, you can always set one up!
Start by thinking what area you want to cover – generally the groups that are smaller and more local have found it easiest to get started and manage the admin and logistics of running a group. A good place to start might be setting up a Facebook or WhatsApp group and inviting your neighbours to join.
More information and support for group admins is on the Covid Mutual Aid site: https://covidmutualaid.org/resources/#setting-up
(If you are an existing community group or charity, and want advice on group development etc, the Voluntary Sector Infrastructure Alliance can help.)