Mutual aid in the time of corona – A light in the dark

Covid19 pandemic hit the headlines a few months ago, but the global crisis that has caused since is still going on. Social distancing, lockdown, cases & deaths, working from home, flattening the curve, ICU beds, sanitizers, toilet paper, new normal, and the list goes on and on; terms that we hear (and say) on a daily basis, but still, it seems that time is not enough to filter this avalanche of news.

However, one of the positives we’ve seen in the recent weeks is that there are people out there that they do care to help the vulnerables of our societies, those that are in the worst position of all, those that need help to survive. You don’t know anyone that needs a hand in these trying times? Think again, it’s not far away from your place, I bet. The UK government has been criticized because of the approach it took at the beginning of the crisis which, as it looks, has led to an increased number of cases and deaths, but what goes unnoticed is the mutual aid groups that have been formed all over the country almost immediately when the virus landed there, providing support to those that are at risk. A grassroots movement that shows us a bright future ahead?

We got in contact with Corinne Bailey, one of the founding members of Bewdley COVID 19 support group and asked her a few questions about the mutual aid group she’s involved in. Let’s spread the word around, organise and form our groups all over the island of Ireland.

  1. Who are you, what are your personal politics and what drove you to make the group?

I am a member of the Labour Party and on the left of the Party. I am also an IT Project Manager. I studied Microbiology and virology at University – I have a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Biotechnology, so became acutely aware of the potential threat of the virus back in January and became increasingly concerned that our Government were dragging their feet in dealing with this.

2. Tell us a few words about the group. How many people are involved, how does the group operate and what kind of assistance do you offer?

We have a committee of 3 people and a leadership team of 8. We also now have a team of around 50 volunteers signed up – all have had DBS checks an carry ID badges. We take on referrals from relatives, chemists, GPs, and self-referrals. We try to allocate a volunteer to a service user so that they keep contact with one volunteer who helps with shopping, prescriptions and sometimes daily or regular safe and well calls. We also have an arrangement to provide emergency food parcels and have also helped to signpost people to other services.

3. You have arranged the local areas into districts and have people allocated to each district, so how do you cope with logistics? How can such a network of people and operations be workable in such times?

The volunteers are assigned to people locally. A lot of this is managed via a Facebook group so posting where a referral is located and asking people to step forward to help. Each referral gets logged and we fill in paperwork and maintain an overall sheet. We try to limit prescription collection to one person going each day to reduce footfall and risk.

4. What is the people’s and community’s feedback about your group so far?

The community have been very appreciative and we get a lot of very supportive comments.

5. Is there any wider connection with groups from other areas/cities?

There is a national admin group which we refer to sometimes as well as local groups to us which we refer to if we received calls from their area.

6. Do you think that mutual aid networks are here to stay after the pandemic, and also are you worried about ‘free rider’ problems in such a case?

I think that this support group will remain in some format after the pandemic and I am not concerned about the free rider impact – many people have been left behind in today’s society and it is important to recognise this.

7. What’s your view on the next day? Do you think this situation might change people’s political views in the longer term?

I genuinely hope so and I hope that we become a more tolerant society with a renewed understanding that we need to invest in our public services, especially the NHS, and social care and I hope that we move back to political parties that offer this.

We would like to thank Corinne for her time and wish her and the group all the best. Let’s follow their example; help those at risk, get to know each other and re-build our communities and our world. At the end of the day, it’s our relatives, our friends and our neighbors that we would look for help in difficult times. Solidarity!


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