As lockdown begins to lift, community-led Covid-19 response groups are beginning to adapt the support they offer one another. The aim that most share is simple: making sure the community ties strengthened during the pandemic, last well beyond it.
We’ve seen these discussions develop first-hand, thanks to the money management support we’ve been providing some 100 groups during the crisis. Here, we outline three of the ways community-led groups are thinking ahead.
1. Redirecting donations to meet demand
Shopping and provisions are less of a concern as less people isolate, and many of those do still need this now have set-ups that mean they don’t have to go through groups. But demand has not decreased.
While groups might have been spending most of their donations on providing shopping or essentials for neighbours who were self-isolating, there is a clear shift in need, from crisis response to hardship or solidarity funds.
Charlie Watkinson from Nunhead Knocks Mutual Aid says: “We’re now seeing people who are running out of money because either they’re out of jobs, or their income has changed and their savings are running out and they need help getting funds. We’re getting a lot more requests where people are just out of food, particularly in the half term week where the kids of the key workers are at home. People are running out of money and don’t know where to go to.”
2. Diversifying what volunteers do
During lockdown, many tasks that group members were picking up were simple services such as collecting shopping, walking a dog or buying supplies. Now, it’s not so straight-forward.
“We’re doing more things around mental health and befriending more people needing that kind of support,” Charlie says. “We’ve got a couple of complex cases, one where the gentleman was homeless until February, borrowed the money to get into a house and has no food, no clothes, nothing. We are fundraising to get these items donated to him.”
“Another is a family who have just moved from temporary housing into permanent social housing. They only have a single bed between a parent and a child. So now we’ve found, through lovely donations, a couple of double beds, a TV, a laptop for the child to their homework on, bookcases, books, activities for the kids. It’s amazing, but it’s definitely getting more serious and more complex in its needs.”
As groups turn their attention to the long-term impacts this crisis is likely to have on people’s mental health, support opportunities like befriending services, socially-distanced socials and sign-posting are playing a greater part.
3. Deciding whether to formalise
We’re seeing a rise in mutual aid and community-led groups thinking about registering as Community Interest Corporations (CICs) and charities, as well as a growth in community of interest groups.
A key consideration many are grappling with is whether or not to take on the task of creating a constitution and governance framework which ultimately leads them to being legally recognised.
For those groups handling a lot of money, this could make sense. However, there are also arguments in favour of remaining outside state systems, as is the tradition behind mutual aid.
Many people would prefer to lean on their local group than a formal service from a council or charity. As Felix Levay from Oxford Mutual Aid puts it “Mutual Aid is about solidarity rather than charity – many of those volunteering also receive support in one form or another.”
Secondly, communities are looking to support locals they share other kinds of identities with. For example, the Goldsmith’s Employee Solidarity Fund which is supporting casualised workers during this crisis. Or the London Bi Pandas, who are supporting those in the capital’s LGBTQIA+ community. Amongst other things, raising funds for trans people who can no longer afford their therapy.
Louise Mousseau, Portfolio Manager at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, who are funding our work supporting community-led groups in South London, says that this crisis has created new models for what civic action might look like post-Covid.
“What is already very clear is that the relationship between the government, the individual and technology has rapidly shifted,” she writes, adding that the work of mutual aid and community groups through this crisis has “fundamentally changed the social fabric of our boroughs.”
Co-authored by Chris Smith and Rachel Krengel