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Communities vs Coronavirus: the big impact of Good Neighbour and Mutual Aid schemes

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A report from the New Local Government Network (NLGN)  states that a huge proportion of vulnerable people needing help during the pandemic has been directly supported by the proliferation of thousands of the spontaneous, voluntary Mutual Aid groups that have emerged. 

The public response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of much-needed hope, expressed in the New Local Government Network's (NLGN)  ‘Communities vs Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid’. The report  clearly states that a huge proportion of vulnerable people needing help during the pandemic has been directly supported by the proliferation of thousands of spontaneous, voluntary Mutual Aid groups that have emerged in recent times. Moreover, it argues that community effort has been more effective and responsive that government-initiated schemes. 

This is of course endorsed by what we have seen happening across Norfolk in past months -  and by the extensive research CAN has been compiling to inform future planning and activity. We have been advising, supporting and encouraging such groups on a daily basis, many of them augmenting and incorporating into our well-established Good Neighbour Scheme network. Indeed this has been the major focus of our community support work in recent and ongoing times.  

The NLGN report describes the mutual aid groups as being reliant on working-age people, many of whom were furloughed or spending more time in their local communities. And In many cases these groups have been able to help people far more rapidly and flexibly than conventional public services. This is also reflected in the Norfolk experience. 

The report argues that the mutual aid phenomenon is a powerful demonstration of what is possible when communities come together. Yet for community collaboration to continue beyond the pandemic and make our communities more resilient in future, lessons must be learned. The report offers the following lessons and conclusions. 

Lessons 

  • Mutual aid groups have been an indispensable part of the COVID-19 response 
  • They demonstrate the wider potential of community power 
  • Councils have significant influence over their viability and success 
  • Mutual aid groups function better in areas where social capital is more developed 
  • Small scale is the key to success 

 

Recommendations 

  • Councils should play a facilitative role in their interactions with mutual aid groups 
  • They should be supported with a community support financial package from central government 
  • Employment policies and practices that support flexible working should be championed by government  

 

The NLGN report does suggest that mutual aid groups have faced challenges in managing the morale and conduct of their members. This is a factor that CAN has always addressed in its infrastructure support for Good Neighbour Schemes and, more recently, for its Good neighbour Response Groups – with advice, training and support on safeguarding, data protection, DBS, legal issues, and volunteer management. 

Simon Kaye, senior policy researcher at NLGN and co-author of the report, said: “The mutual aid phenomenon is a powerful demonstration of the potential for community power in the UK. We now need to focus on how community collaboration can outlast this crisis and make our places more resilient in future.” 

Danny Kruger MP has been charged with reviewing the VCSE sector’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic response. He says: “The essential finding of the crisis, detailed in this report, is that there exists a great reservoir of latent goodwill and community spirit which can translate into actual capability in times of crisis.” 

But the report does recommend that central government and local authorities need to be involved, particularly from the funding perspective and, significantly, that local knowledge and flexibility of response are key operating factors. 

You can download ‘Communities vs Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid’ here.  And you can read The Civil Society’s helpful digest of the report’s key points here.   

If you are working with a COVID-19 support group and need advice and support in its management and operation, contact us at CAN on 01362 698216 or office@communityactionnorfolk.org.uk Read more about how CAN has been supporting the community effort here.