"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...”