Covid-19 Mutual Aid: how to help vulnerable people near you

18 Mar 2020
How to help vulnerable people near you

Written by: Patrick Butler Social policy editor, The Guardian

Groups are springing up to support older people, those with existing health issues and the self-isolating.

I’m worried about vulnerable people in my community who may have to self-isolate or quarantine, especially those who do not have family nearby. How can I help them?

Informal, local mutual aid groups are springing up all over the UK. Help could involve activities from running errands to the shops, to making phone calls, to providing a friendly voice of reassurance. Lots of existing local charities and community groups are putting in place plans to ramp up trained volunteer support.

Which groups need help in particular?

The idea is to support people who are self-isolating, especially people without nearby family, elderly people, and people with a disability or long-term health condition such as cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease. Many people will feel anxious about coronavirus and local support groups can provide a vital boost to morale.

How do I find out about my local group?

An online group called Covid-19 Mutual Aid has a list of local groups on its website. Groups are being added all the time. These groups are autonomous and communicate online, through social media and email, and each will have its local priorities and focus.

There isn’t one for where I live. Can I set one up?

Covid-19 Mutual Aid recommends setting up a local group. It says the smaller the better – a group that brings together those people who live on your street alone could be more effective and manageable than a district-wide support group. The Covid-19 Mutual Aid website provides advice on how to set up a local group, including important guidance on safety and security.

Can I help if I am self-isolating?

Yes, so long as you are feel healthy enough. Help and assistance can be given over the phone or online.

What about the dangers of volunteers passing on the infection to vulnerable people, or being infected themselves?

The Covid-19 Mutual Aid website emphasises that all groups must prioritise safety. The aim is to prevent the spread of the virus. It provides guidance on how to provide help safely, from holding meetings online, and avoiding unnecessary face-to-face interactions.

Can I give money?

The idea of mutual aid groups is about helping people to self-mobilise to donate time and attention to local people. They are not set up to receive and handle donations. However, existing local charities that help the vulnerable are seeing a fall-off in donations due to fundraising events being cancelled and they would welcome financial support to keep vital services and trained volunteer networks going. These range from food banks (which will also need donated food), to homeless shelters, community kitchens and mental health and social care charities.