Ellie Benton and Anne Power
Published 9 February 2021
The beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic caused panic over job losses, food and toiletry shortages and social isolation, over and above the health impacts of the virus. People wanted to help on a mass scale and there was a huge community response. The pandemic brought energy into neighbourhoods and communities, leading to the rapid formation of mutual aid groups in many different forms all over the country. At the same time, existing community groups and many service enterprises, particularly food outlets, redirected their activities to helping the NHS, families that were struggling, and vulnerable people. Since March 2020, LSE Housing have been researching a sample of these mutual aid groups. In this paper, we will present our findings on the makeup of volunteer groups, the contributions of volunteers, the people they helped, and how, also what potential longer-term benefits there may be. We explore the social problems that the groups address and show how we need more than mutual aid to remedy the deep-set inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted. The need for community and a sense of belonging is a message that comes out most strongly from our research, reinforced by financial need and social isolation. Mutual aid can bind communities and neighbourhoods together and create a sense of belonging to a degree.