This document has been adapted from this statement https://bit.ly/39v40QG by the admins of the cambridgeshire coronavirus mutual aid facebook group
We thought it would be a good idea to outline what ‘mutual aid’ means, and why we have chosen the ‘mutual aid’ model for offering help during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Our group is a mutual aid group, which means we are not an organisation or a support group, in fact you can think of it as more like a network. We aim to connect people and help people access guidance around helping each other safely. Each ‘hyper local’ street group is autonomous, meaning it is in charge of itself and can make choices about how to work best to meet the needs of its own residents.
Mutual aid doesn’t just mean “helping” or “volunteering” – it means a specific way of offering help where there is no difference between those helping and those being helped. Exchange of help is reciprocal, and based on trust rather than formal vetting processes or means testing. There are so many ways to help, from picking up shopping to having a chat with a neighbor over email. Sometimes the best way to help your community is to ask for help, for example help getting groceries if you have symptoms, so you don’t have to go out and risk infecting anyone.
There is a useful video about mutual aid here.
In brief, mutual aid is simply a community of ordinary people offering to give and receive help to each and from each other. There might be people helping coordinate things, but there are no bosses and no conditions on giving or receiving help. Anyone can start a mutual aid group and anyone can get involved in one.
For some people, this is not a way of organising that suits them. Some people would only like to be helped by people who have been vetted, or would only like to help those who have been certified as deserving of help (whatever this may mean), by an external authority such as the council or a charity. Mutual aid groups like ours are not able to meet the needs of people who want to help or be helped in this specific way.
Many people simply want to help in any way possible, and so may have signed up for council, NHS and private schemes as well as being in mutual aid groups.This can be brilliant, as long as people understand the difference between mutual aid work and council/charity volunteering, and don’t seek to undermine mutual aid structures, e.g. by encouraging group members to leave or stop their work doing mutual aid.
In some cases there are things that councils and charities can do which mutual aid groups may not be able to, such as provide medical care or other forms of specialised professional support. In other cases, referrals to authorities might be a cause of harm – for example, for people at risk of deportation, or people in groups which are more frequently subject to police violence and harassment. This means that, when relating to authorities, we will always think carefully about balancing potential harms.
In Petersfield, we are connected to both our local councillors and a charity, Romsey Mill, who has been given funds to support us. They aren’t in charge of us, but we can ask them for anything we may need to help our neighbors such as printing leaflets. If we are worried that someone might need more intensive help, they can connect us to charitable and council services. If we have concerns about someone’s safety, they have safeguarding trained staff who can give us advice.
Mutual aid is not a formal charity or organisation. It’s important to maintain that difference.
We will never formally vet people offering help or means-test people asking for help, although we will always do our best to encourage safe practices.
We may sometimes work with more established authorities, e.g. by referring help requests to them or receiving requests from them, but only with the consent of everyone involved, and we will always stay mindful of the balance of potential harm