It’s been a while since the last Lambeth Mutual Aid newsletter, and quite a lot has changed! Several people who were part of this mutual aid group have left the borough, many who joined in spring 2020 have turned their attention back to work and studies, new people have brought new energies – there’s been a lot of movement. One thing that hasn’t changed – and won’t change without a radical rethink of how our society approaches possession, poverty and resources – is inequality in Lambeth. And with the COVID pandemic far from over, the need for a mutual aid group here is as sharp as ever.
At the beginning of 2021 Lambeth Mutual Aid was quiet and could have drifted apart, except for all the brilliant people who were donating to the Lambeth Mutual Aid Fund. Money brings responsibility: how to be sure that it’s being shared usefully and well? How to avoid gatekeeping, and the kind of decision-making that repeats problematic social ideas about the “deserving” poor?
In May there was a meeting between a small group from Lambeth Mutual Aid and some of the other community groups we’ve built relationships with since 2020, including Rastafari Movement, Lambeth Larder, Cook to Care and the Vassall and Coldharbour Consortium. By that point, just under £25,000 had been shared across the borough, through food vouchers, grants to community groups and supporting people in difficult situations who had been referred to Lambeth Mutual Aid – people who had been homeless and rehoused in the borough, for instance, who needed a bit of a boost. Lambeth Mutual Aid called the meeting because we wanted to talk about the effectiveness of what we were doing, what wasn’t working, and what we were missing. We want the money to be rooted in the community: that might seem difficult in a borough with over 300k people, but we believe it is possible.
The people in that meeting felt that the approach Lambeth Mutual Aid were taking was basically a good one, and so the work would continue. Since then the money shared from the fund has gone up to almost £35,000. We’ve supported Repowering to establish their own solidarity fund, and to begin supplying slow cookers to people — a much more energy-efficient way of cooking — along with a recipe book. We’ve continued supporting Cook to Care to deliver hot meals to people. We’ve built on our relationship with Rastafari Movement, helping them to deliver food to more people but also to think about wider well-being needs. We’ve also supported a number of people in crisis, giving money for food and bills, and helping them find new furniture and white goods.
In September Lambeth Mutual Aid met again, this time to ask: do we have the energy to carry on? The Lambeth Mutual Aid Fund receives around £600 a month, which is amazing, but not enough to support everyone who approaches us. That means making hard decisions, which risks making us act like a charity. That’s not what mutual aid is about. Also, there were only five of us doing this work – that’s not a lot of mutual aid for such a big borough.
During that meeting we made a list of all the different kinds of jobs that we do within Lambeth Mutual Aid, and gave ourselves six weeks to think about how sustainable it is to continue. It confirmed what we already knew: we need more people! (It’s a sign of how much we need more people that it’s taken more than six weeks even to get this newsletter together!) We have put out calls like this before, but often people will join the Lambeth Mutual Aid WhatsApp group unsure about what they can do or how much time they can commit.
So, here’s where we think you – yes, you! – could join up with Lambeth Mutual Aid and make a difference to your neighbours in the borough. Everything we’re suggesting can be done online or over the phone in whatever hours you can spare: ideally a couple of hours a week, or a few evenings a month. You could:
1. talk to people or groups asking for money, reading through emails, answering emails and help with making decisions about where the money should go.
2. do social media/outreach to increase: how much money we raise each month; how many people know about the fund; our engagement with other organisations, groups and individuals. We currently get just over £600 a month, and we’d love to increase that to be able to support more things and more people.
If either of these things sounds like something you’d be up for and you have time for, please give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d also like to take this moment to shout out some amazing groups around the borough who have been doing such great work. It’s not exhaustive, and if you know of other groups please tell us — we’re really committed to building relationships across the borough’s community groups, and it will help us know who else we should be getting in touch with! So, shout out to:
In food: Cook to Care, Lambeth Larder, and Rastafari Movement
In housing and rent: Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Save Nour, and Acorn
In fuel: Repowering
In migrant rights: Southwark and Lambeth Anti Raids
Some of these groups we’ve shared with financially, some have helped us with amazing advice, others we’ve been admiring from the sidelines, all are beautiful examples of the kindness and compassion needed to build a better world.
p.s. We’ve got someone squating on our old website lambethmutualaid.co.uk, so we’ve moved over to lambethmutualaid.com. See you there!