Mutual Aid and Community Responses to COVID-19
Housing Plus Academy Online Workshop
20th January 2020
Read the HPA Headline Report Jan 2021
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, LSE Housing has been conducting research into the growth of mutual aid groups in the United Kingdom. We gathered case studies of groups from across the UK, with the aim of understanding the motivations, organisation, day-to-day activities, beneficiaries, and wider impact of mutual aid in communities dealing with the pandemic and lockdown.
On Wednesday 20th January 2021, we organised an online Housing Plus Academy workshop for mutual aid groups to come together, hear the results of our research, and to share their own experiences. Around 20 mutual aid groups, social landlords, and community organisations attended. We discussed the longer-term impacts of mutual aid in communities, and the kind of support that groups need moving forward.
Some key findings from the workshop included:
- Groups carried out a wide variety of roles, with most including food shopping, prescription pick-ups, operating a befriending telephone service for isolated people, dog walking and odd jobs; although some mutual aid groups had also branched out into wider activities such as setting up a forest school; scrub hubs; and teaming up with food banks.
- Mutual aid groups did not have a criteria for those they helped - they just helped anyone who needed it within their local area. This is in contrast to more formal support organisations, which often have strict criteria for beneficiaries.
- As the pandemic has gone on, mutual aid groups have found that they are dealing with increasingly complex issues such as housing, mental health, and long-term food provision. Some groups have received referrals from statutory services that are stretched by funding cuts and increased need. Some volunteers said they felt they were becoming 'unqualified caseworkers'. It is important that mutual aid groups are given support, training, and resources if statutory services and more formal organisation will continue to rely on them. Social landlords, larger charities, and other community anchor organisations can help with providing this support to mutual aid groups.
- Formalising the groups will help them access funding, and ensure that safeguarding procedures are in place for volunteers and beneficiaries. However, there is a concern that the core value of mutuality will be lost if groups have to formalise their operations. There needs to be an understanding that mutual aid groups work in a different way to more formal, larger charity organisations and that this informality is often what draws volunteers. They should be supported to formalise in a way that does not take away from the core ethos of mutuality.