Thousands of mutual aid groups have sprung up around the UK, grounded in different experiences and perspectives. Amardeep Singh Dhillon asks: Whose vision of community-serving work will win out?
‘The group is not built on the idea of a charitable donation of time and effort, but on the principle that at any time, any member could need help or have something to offer’ – the onboarding document of a London mutual aid group.
In March, a group of volunteers in Lewisham, south London, set up the first Covid-19 Mutual Aid group to facilitate care efforts for those self-isolating due to the pandemic. Focused on immediate needs, their efforts included picking up prescriptions, delivering groceries, dog-walking and regular check-ins for people living alone. Six weeks on, Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is coordinating thousands of similar networks across the UK and providing best practice and safeguarding guidance to incredibly diverse groups of people – all working under the banner of ‘mutual aid’ within their own communities. The rate of response has been staggering, as has the scale of need and scope of aid provision, sometimes where none previously existed.
Summed up as ‘a group of people organis[ing] to meet their own needs, outside of the formal frameworks of charities, NGOs and government,’ the term ‘mutual aid’ has roots in Peter Kropotkin’s early 20th century anarchist writings. It’s been used to describe historical and current indigenous societies, medieval trades guilds, the UK co-operative movement and a host of other networks based on reciprocity and voluntary membership.
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