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Understanding Mutual Aid Groups

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, you may have seen a rise in the formation of mutual aid groups.


Mutual aid is a form of solidarity-based support, where communities unite against a common issue. These problems can be anything - from the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, to the long-ingrained struggles of a minority group. Rather than individuals fending for themselves, mutual aid promotes an approach focused on alliance.


Yet, this type of group still raises many questions, and can be easily confused with other support systems. In this blog, we will help you better understand mutual aid efforts, plus offer advice on how to get involved.


What is the Difference Between Mutual Aid Groups and Charities?

With mutual aid, people work cooperatively to meet the needs of everyone within a certain community. Acting as a form of social solidarity, this is entirely different from a charity.


While both are based on providing support, there are contrasts with their structures.


With charities, these feature a one-way relationship between an organisation and its beneficiaries. For example, a person will volunteer at a charity because they want to support those in need, such as people battling cancer, or living with a disability. Usually, these volunteers do not experience the same issues as the recipients. This differs as there is no exchange of mutual benefit.


On the other hand, mutual aid groups are like informal community support groups, operating as an act of unity that build and sustain networks between neighbours. In short, people offer help in various different ways. For example, these could be offering resources, such as food or money. Or skills, like driving or picking up prescriptions. These are then redistributed to those in the community who are in need.


Currently, there are more than 4,250 mutual aid groups in the UK, as opposed to over 165,000 registered charities. However, mutual aid groups have increased in popularity, particularly as a response to COVID-19.


Mutual aid groups and charities can often collaborate to support one another. For example: when it comes to money management, mutual aid groups can reach out to established organisations, such as charities, for advice and help to draw up guidelines to follow if there are concerns. Mutual aid groups can also ease the burden on charities by completing simple tasks for people and unearthing issues that charities need to deal with on a larger scale.


bags food parcels for mutual aid groups
Mutual aid groups are a type of informal community support group. Image credit: Teen Vogue

How Does a Mutual Aid Group Work?

Usually, mutual aid groups are made up of volunteers who organise acts that respond to the needs of communities. But what work do they do? And how do they achieve it?


This differs from group to group. These groups could be longstanding, having met through other support systems such as rehab facilities, or short-term to aid those in isolation during national lockdowns.


Over the past year, a lot of new mutual aid groups have started online, mostly through social media platforms. This way, everyone could collaborate freely on ideas of how to support one another, while still abiding by national restrictions.


Support can be carried out in a variety of ways. These can include:

  • Delegating shifts e.g. cleaning streets or emptying bins

  • Sharing responsibility of posting flyers and forms through letterboxes or handing out leaflets in the neighbourhood

  • Donating non perishable food parcels

  • Raising funds for a mutual cause, such as group therapy or a tailored activity

hands all together to show support for mutual aid groups
Mutual aid groups can create stronger communities and support systems. Image credit: Shanghai Daily

How to Get Involved

You may be reading this blog because you want to find a mutual aid group to join, or you may want to start your own.


Starting with the former, there are several ways you can discover mutual aid groups. With the continued rise of mutual aid in the UK, you can now search databases that list specific support groups near you.


With Mutual-Aid, you can surf depending on your local criteria, by entering your town/city, county or the first part of a postcode. It has over 2,000 groups listed, all of which have been established since the start of the pandemic.


Alternatively, you can find mutual aid groups through local community websites, such as Manchester Community Central or Action Together, which covers Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside areas.


Another way to find mutual aid groups is by spending some time digging around on search engines or social media. Using keywords that are focused on location should help you refine your search and shorten your time spent Googling.


You could also reach out to local community leaders for guidance. These could be politicians, school teachers, or even church ministers who might be able to point you in the right direction of your nearest group.


If you wish to start your own mutual aid group, you first need to determine who you want to support, and how you want to provide this support. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to target a specific group? E.g. ethnic minorities or women and children

  • What are the hardships that this particular group faces?

  • What support can this group benefit from?

  • How will you carry out this support?

  • How many people do you need to help you do this?

  • What times can this support be conducted?

If you spot an unmet need that you believe needs response and support, then use your initiative to carry out some research. You can do this by creating a page on Facebook, inviting people in your community to ‘like’ it, and posting questions that will help you cement your motive.


Depending on your level of investment and involvement, you must be prepared to donate your time and effort. It could be that you have to organise weekly shopping trips, or curate a calendar of duties to be shared amongst the rest of your group. This will require regular meetings, which can be done once a week via Zoom or in person, if restrictions allow. You must also allocate time for administrative duties, such as communicating with people via social media, emails and phone calls.


Whatever route you choose, it is always useful to reach out to a professional for advice. At S3 Solutions, we are a team of independent consultants covering all things legal, business, research, economic and community development. With an extensive list of clients to vouch for us, we are passionate about the public and non-profit sectors, and would be delighted to help you get started with your next project.


If you have any further queries on mutual aid groups, then please feel free to contact us today.