Friday, 10 July 2020

Mutual aid survey results

UK Mutual Aid conducted a survey aimed at support users and providers.  It set out how UK Mutual Aid is here to support the local community through our 1,800 volunteers, to empower grassroots groups and communities to better organise, plan and coordinate through technology.  We have acknowledged that our community’s needs will change over the months ahead. Because we wanted to know what our local community wanted, we asked people to fill out a survey to help us better understand the needs and ensure we can deliver relevant and practical support.

It should be noted that 95% of the 20 responses given in the week ending 27th June 2020 were from support providers.

Mentioned by six people, mental health, health, illness and emotional support were top of the list in terms of concerns for the community in the immediate and long term.  This was closely followed by issues of unemployment and people losing their jobs, mentioned by four people.  Concerns about financial support, economic hardship and poverty were also mentioned by four people.  Loneliness, isolation, social disconnect with the elderly, care and companionship were mentioned by four people.

Two people expressed concern about food access and hunger.  One person mentioned each of the following: fear, housing, education, people taking advantage of the system, race, cultural and religious relations, domestic abuse, what our goals are going to be, fewer volunteers but still having people who need help, community cohesion, inequality and deprivation, young people's engagement and protection.

Changes that people want to see were safe social spaces for young people, a more engaged local council and coordination between groups, good collaboration between all organisations, more activities to bond people together, more social events to get lonely people out of the house and help for people home schooling, more local small community initiatives in parks or schools, monitoring the system more, getting the organisers to call the volunteers and see if the users are needed, a more supportive community that can help each other, cohesiveness and multicultural support for all, connection in between charities, individuals, volunteers and local business, social events connecting the people, help getting back to work, help with mental health, more communication, a community centre, a website or notice board for seeking apprenticeships and initiatives and to see which organisations need volunteers, empowerment, jobs, the ability to adapt to where the need is, more people knowing each other and supporting each other and more support network for single people, mixed age activities, coffee groups, tennis and walks.

The roles that respondents saw for themselves in making these changes were being active volunteers and contributors around work commitments, involvement with an organisation, supporting vulnerable people, voluntary work, helping on the ground, expanding service capabilities in various sectors, being dynamic, promoting services when possible, organising and connecting individuals or organisations, signposting, marketing, look at funding streams, food hubs, community organising, job clubs, admin and organiser roles.

Let us know if you have any comments and if this survey summary brings other ideas to mind.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

UK Mutual Aid – setting up the pharmacy team


I was intrigued to speak to Paloma to find out how her involvement in UK Mutual Aid came about.  She told me that having moved from Madrid five years ago she was quite established in London when the pandemic struck:

"The pandemic was coming up and I was working with elderly people and so my work is related with that, doing art and crafts with them so because of the restrictions of visits in home care houses I found myself jobless and I was happy to fill the gap doing something else.  I really wanted to help and have done volunteering all my life.” 

So how did Paloma get involved?  This is what she said:

“There were some people who would stay home and wouldn't even move from there.  Even if the virus can affect all people, including the younger generation like us, it would affect us less.  That's why I started.  I think I saw in an article somewhere, I'm not sure where, I saw the Facebook group and nobody was doing my area.  I'm in Brent Cross so I set up a group for Brent Cross and then I met Jia, the person who did the map, and I started to work with him as we lived very close to each other.  I thought that it would be good to communicate with other areas so that we can be better and stronger and to be aware of the vulnerable people.  The system we have is very safe because we do check-up calls at different stages.  The service is for free and reliable.  At the beginning it was crazy, two weeks non-stop 12 hours, I would wake up in the morning at 9.00 and end up at 10.00, 11.00 with meetings, leafleting."

And the pharmacy group?

“When the pandemic started all the classes were cancelled.  I said I would cover the gap.  When I started to do UK Mutual Aid, my first mission in the group was to organise the group in Golders Green.”

"We created a Barnet admin group with organisers with a common way of working.  I took Golders Green and Jia took Hampstead Garden Suburb and now I am very focused on the pharmacy team, delivering prescriptions.  We found out that one pharmacy called us saying that my driver is sick and we have 20 prescriptions to deliver.  Our system was matching one person with the closest volunteer and that system wouldn't work.  It wouldn't make sense to send 20 volunteers.  It made sense to make smaller groups and deliver prescriptions.  We are now around 20 people. Now it's easier.”

And what is it about mutual aid that inspired Paloma?

“What I really like about mutual aid is that we create a great community so that we know our neighbours, coming together for a common purpose. I think this group will evolve in other directions, including community events.  One of the things this pandemic has shown us is that we are so disconnected with other generations.  Before the pandemic it was more about myself and this has brought people together."

And where does Paloma see UK Mutual Aid developing in future?

"My idea for the future is more create a community, I want to work on that side, I want to create a community where the age of people is not a barrier and that you can interact with people of all ages, to know your neighbours. I would say, for instance, a way of connecting with elderly people would be a printed newsletter, social events for people to meet each other so that you can know your neighbours.  For me the evolution will be helping the people who still need prescriptions and evolve as a befriender, the social aspect.  You match with a volunteer and that person develops relationships more naturally.  You already have the structure and it would be easier.  We can move it to a social network for everyone in the area, for neighbours in the area to meet."

Paloma is clearly inspired by the elderly people she has met:

"I was actually thinking to do Zoom events with them, they can tell their stories, that person has been in two wars and has a lot to tell.  I have met a lot of interesting people and we can learn from them!"

"A lot of people told me: We have to have a coffee after this... I will do a rota for coffees. I was thinking to see the person behind the phone!"

How has the group been evolving?

“To keep the group alive, we have the idea of free classes so we have started yoga, art for children, salsa classes, craft, theatre classes for children, Zumba.  A volunteer can offer their time, something to share, we can share events."

Paloma clearly sees the impact that UK Mutual Aid has had:

“I don't want this to disappear, I don’t want to throw my effort away.  I want it to become part of something bigger...”

Friday, 5 June 2020

UK Mutual Aid – how it all started



I caught up with Jia Zhuang via Zoom to ask him how UK Mutual Aid came about.  I have been involved for the past few weeks and, although, we live just a couple of miles away from each other we have only met on Zoom so far.  Such is the reality of organising during the pandemic.  Jia is modest about his involvement but it was his ability to spot an opportunity and use his tech skills that enabled those who need help and volunteers to be mapped not just in Barnet where we live but around the country.

I asked Jia to tell me a little about himself:

"My story is pretty simple.  My story is that I don't come from a rich family, I come from a first-generation migrant family, my mum moved here in 1992, my dad moved here in 1989.  We moved here as asylum seekers and we became naturalised British citizens in the mid-1990s.  It's just a story of migrants trying to survive in a new place.  I had the opportunity in early March when I had no work to reprioritise my energies onto something that was more worthwhile than sitting around watching the news."

So what was it that meant that Jia got the ball rolling?

"I knew that I have professional skills and I knew that I had the capacity and capability to help to coordinate and organise things and that's what I have been doing, trying to use my time and resources in a more socially positive way."

"I've worked over ten years in the digital industry, I have lots of experience with tech, building technology teams that build products.  In this instance when mutual aid popped up, with my technology and entrepreneurial hat on, I saw an opportunity to create a way of working that was organised and coordinated rather than disorganised and uncoordinated. It felt like to me at the time the more coordinated and organised we were the simpler we could keep communication.  The less complexity we had the more people in need we could reach as quickly as possible, without them falling through the net and ending up in a worse situation."

I was curious to know more about what inspired Jia.  He told me:

"I watched a BBC news programme about mutual aid and someone had an idea of printing a leaflet with their name and contact details and putting that through their neighbours' doors so they knew they could find someone and that was wonderful.  That was a moment of inspiration for me.  We should help each other, we should help our neighbours, we should help our local residents because there are so many people who are isolating.  That was the motivation then.”

Jia elaborated on the rationale for the approach:

“Because I work in technology and I work in product, large-scale solutions, and thinking also around sustainability it didn't feel like a single person putting a leaflet through the door could sustain itself in the long term.  You needed to build some structure, share the work, share the responsibility, share the response and do it in a way that is optimal and best fits everyone's skill sets, capacity, desire and ability. It was about matching abilities and desire with need in such a way that respected people's privacy and safety at a very low cost point."

So how exactly did UK Mutual Aid come about?  Jia explains:

"On 15th March, I created a WhatsApp group and I posted on NextDoor about mutual aid to see if there were any other mutual aid volunteers or groups set up already and there were none; I shared the WhatsApp link on NextDoor and people started to join; within days we had over 1,000 volunteers and looking at who was putting their hands up to help with planning and organising and that's how our teams developed."

What is particularly notable about UK Mutual Aid is how so many people came to be involved.  For Jia, this was down to the approach:

"It's not about control or ownership or anything like that; it's about collaboration, about working together, about making sure that we all share the same mission and clearly defining what that mission was.  When we first started, we recognised that waiting for a response from the statutory services would mean that people would get missed out and they needed an alternative safety net.  So, the idea was to get organised, set up and able to deliver aid as quickly as possible.  We went from organising everything from the 15th to getting the first request on the 18th, it took us three days to agree what to put on the leaflet, I built a simple map so that we could geo-locate volunteers and when a resident calls for help we have a cluster of volunteers who, based on their availability and volunteering services offered, could be matched."

Jia had previously mentioned that he was from Wuhan and I wondered if this meant he might have had a better idea of what was coming this way, for example, though reading Chinese language articles before news had spread to the West.  This is what Jia told me:

"I saw on social media what slipped out from China, some horrible situations, people committing suicide, people dying, people's businesses collapsing in Wuhan.  My mum was a pharmacist in China for many years so she had worked in hospitals and I am generally up to date in terms of general science and health.  Something like coronavirus, just by how it spread in China, in Wuhan specifically, it was immediately clear that it was transmittable through the air, through touching surfaces.  The only way you control an infectious disease without a vaccine is through isolation."

"It was clear very early on by looking at what was happening in Wuhan for me personally that what would happen here in the UK is that we would go into lockdown, a period where would be observing social distancing, isolating ourselves to stop it transmitting, what was not known was how severe the restrictions would be and how much they would be enforced.  Being a liberally democratic country, the responsibility is shared between government and citizens to act responsibly, a lot of people stayed at home, people played their part to stop the spread, they made their sacrifices.  When people were staying at home that's the time the most vulnerable in our society need our help the most because they can't go out, that's why mutual aid is so effective.  Even now we are so effective because we find healthy volunteers who are able to do shopping for elderly, vulnerable people and that reduces the risk of transmission."

So what of Jia’s tech background?  What, I wondered, had he done previously and how useful was this for the project that emerged?

"I've worked on a banking start-up project so I was exposed to heavily regulated sectors and I understand things about data and privacy; I worked previously in media, broadcasting and advertising so I also understand the role of digital platforms in terms of communicating at a time like this.  I have my own start-up and my own business ideas and a lot had elements of coordinating local logistics so it was something that was already in my head when we started. I had some pre-existing ideas but it was about validating that with the rest of the volunteers and making sure that it was practical and realistic for the team."

What has impressed Jia in this time and what does the future hold?  This is what he told me:

"The generosity, kindness and altruism shown by all the volunteers have been absolutely incredible.  I've found myself volunteering 12-hour days, six days a week.  It's calmed down a bit now because we have found local leaders, wonderful talent in our volunteer pool who have stepped up and taken on more responsibility.   Now, it's about maintaining momentum, building up resilience and the volunteers to deciding what should happen next."

"I'd like to preserve and protect all the hard work done by the volunteers.  it would be a shame if six months down the line there was no mutual aid that residents could rely on.  I think that the crisis is not over - it's just the beginning.  It's the end of the beginning but it's not the beginning of the end.  I honestly think that we will be under severe social distancing restrictions and there will be plenty of people who need us.  What I would like to see is how we as volunteers can build resilience and sustainability into what we have done so far and that we are just as agile and available as we are today and with the same high degree of service and high quality that we are providing at the moment."

And how widespread, I wondered, had the response been?  This is what Jia said:

“We had volunteers registered from all around the country and requests from help from around the country but t's been predominantly from Barnet because you need to be local to understand what the challenges are.  We have a mutual aid admin from Barnsley who is in our marketing team and our operator team, helping us to coordinate.  It's that shared sense of identity across the nation, we are all mutual aiders doing the same thing.  Let’s put all of our resources together to ensure that there is something available across the UK for people who need help.”

Monday, 11 May 2020

UK Mutual Aid operations grow

On 4th May, we received our 1,000th help request since the first one in mid-March of this year.  More than 900 callbacks have been made in this time.

We at UK Mutual Aid have recently developed our team of community organisers and expanded our pharmacy operations.  We have also started referring people to a range of services.  These include the Claremont Road Food Hub.  Working together, Jesus House, Claremont Church and UK Mutual Aid opened the Claremont Road Food Hub in NW2, where nutritious meals are prepared for distribution.

We are not affiliated to any political or religious group and work collaboratively with others where we can.

Whilst we have national reach and can connect people to local resources across the country, UK Mutual Aid originated in the London Borough of Barnet.  We will seek opportunities to partner with those working in other parts of the country who are making a difference in their communities.

UK Mutual Aid connects residents who are self-isolating to volunteers and services.  This includes help with shopping, meals, picking up prescriptions, posting mail, getting useful information of just having a chat.  We do what we can to connect people with local volunteers.

Ask for help: helpme.mutualaid.co.uk or leave a message 020 3137 7488
Volunteer: signup.mutualaid.co.uk
Donate: opencollective.com/BarnetMutualAid

Sunday, 22 March 2020

How to become a volunteer?

Mutual aid volunteer groups are spontaneously appearing across the country. So how can you help if you want to take actions today?

1. Find your local volunteers using our interactive map at map.mutualaid.co.uk



2. See whos around you and join their WhatsApp or Facebook group if one is near you



3. If there isn't one near you, volunteer at join.mutualaid.co.uk and one of our volunteers will contact you with jobs in your area that need your help.




Saturday, 21 March 2020

Handing out leaflets? Here's what you SHOULDN'T DO!

Rule 1: If you're symptomatic or are in contact with someone symptomatic, don't go outside to hand out leaflets or handle leaflets. Don't risk contaminating the leaflets or risk infecting others.

Rule 2: Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before and after handing out leaflets.

Rule 3: Don't touch your face without having washed or sanitized your hands first.