We’d like to start with a huge thank you to everyone that’s made Lambeth Mutual Aid what it currently is. Those who answer the phones, who deliver food, who donate money, who help source goods, who translate, who support in making referrals and applications, who help us with our website, who match people up… This has been a labour of love and community, and has only been made possible thanks to the work of so many.
Secondly, we wanted to mention that once again, we are running out of money! We woke up today and realised that once we approve our pending expenses, we won’t have much left. If you can afford it, please consider becoming a regular donor. Every penny you give goes directly into supporting those who need it, and as we receive no formal funding, we rely on donations to keep going. You can donate by clicking here.
We wanted to write this post to update people on what we’ve been up to so far, and how things are changing. It might be a bit of a long one, but please bear with us… There’s been a lot going on!
Lambeth Mutual Aid was started as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, anarchist members of the community started a Facebook group to connect people to each other, so they could ask for and receive help. At the same time, people were organising their local communities: dozens of ward, street, and community based Whatsapp groups sprung up full of people ready to give and ask for support. The attention, at first, was on leafleting, to make sure everyone knew that there was support for those self-isolating, or vulnerable in other ways.
Meanwhile, a few of us started meeting to think about how to best create a system that worked alongside all the above. This is how we came up with the dispatch system currently used – we take requests for support through our website or freephone, and match them up with community responders through the relevant Whatsapp groups. Once the request has been filled, dispatchers check in with both the requester and the community responder to ensure everything went smoothly. A few weeks after the system was designed, we came up with a system to crowdfund money and pay for the shops of those who could not afford it: we strongly believe that money should not be a barrier to accessing our support.
And until now, this has worked extremely well! We have completed over 500 support requests in this manner. But things are quickly changing, and we’re seeing a big drop in the response rate from community responders. This is due to lots of things: many people are back at work, and some are getting Whatsapp fatigue, so are leaving their community groups.
The pandemic is unfortunately not going away any time soon, and its repercussions are going to be felt for a long time. Recently, we have been getting many requests from people who are not self-isolating, or medically vulnerable. They have needed other types of support: financial, bureaucratic, childcare, employment, legal, housing, etc. Because of this, we have created a Casework working group, made up of community responders who develop a one-to-one relationship with people who need casework support. We have come across many people who are not getting support from the government, council, or charities – despite being vulnerable and having complex needs, the state has failed them and they have been left with nowhere to turn. We have tried our best to fill in these gaps but oftentimes, we have not been able to offer the support some people have needed. This is particularly the case when we come across people who have “No Recourse to Public Funds”: an immigration condition that means they are unable to access any welfare support.
Mutual aid is about horizontal support. It’s about communities coming together to help each other in the ways we know how, and we want Lambeth Mutual Aid to become a long-term project that continues beyond the COVID-19 crisis. So, we’re changing a bit about the way we work:
- We have taken a decision to not support anyone outside of Lambeth. This has not been an easy decision to make – we would love to offer support to anyone that needs it. However, we have recently received a lot of requests from people outside the borough, and our resources are very limited, so we felt the need to draw the line somewhere.
- We have started offering vouchers for those in extreme need who can do their own shopping, but cannot afford it. In order to keep the spirit of community and mutual aid alive, we will still be looking for community responders to print out the vouchers and deliver them to those requesting them. So please stay in your local Whatsapp groups! This will work best on a hyper-local level: we want those requesting to be linked up with their neighbours, and vice versa. We are also reevaluating our expenses policy to make it more sustainable in the long-term.
- As mentioned above, we have started a Casework working group to support those who need long-term support. Casework involves things like: making phone calls, filling in forms, making referrals to other organisations, doing research on support available… Anyone can do this! If you’d like to help with this, please get in touch.
- We are focussing on getting recurring donations, so we can have a sustainable income. We are 100% funded by donations from the public: we’ve received no support from the council, government, or any institutions. We support anyone who needs it (in Lambeth!), and because we are all unpaid, every single pound you give goes directly to those we support! Click here to become a monthly donor.
- We are planning a Strategy Day in the near future, to discuss what we want to be, and how to get there. If you have any suggestions for what we could be doing, or want to get involved, please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lambeth Mutual Aid is a project that imagines a world in which our community is able to respond to our needs. We can only make this possible if lots of people get involved so please: join a working group, deliver a voucher, donate, and let us know what you think.