We need your support to continue! Become a member
The Bristol Cable

“Working with mutual aid groups has shown me we can get through this crisis. And become stronger.”

Coronavirus in Bristol

COVID community care, or mutual aid groups, have sprung up across the country. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of people involved in Bristol. With so many groups forming it’s been chaotic, but the scale of the result is awe-inspiring.

On Friday 13 March my life got turned upside down. I work in local politics and the election I had spent two and a half years preparing for was postponed for a whole year. I (understandably, I hope!) went to the pub, but when I woke up on Saturday morning I decided to find something useful to do.

I saw on Facebook this fantastic idea of posting letters to my neighbours, offering my personal support should they need it during the crisis. Simple, but necessary things like picking up shopping, posting mail, or even just a friendly phone call. The letter also invited them to join a WhatsApp group to connect neighbours, and enable support to be requested and offered without any central coordination.

That is the beauty of the mutual aid principle, it’s peer to peer, one person to another in their neighbourhood. To get technical (and legal), this also means there’s no data or information of potentially vulnerable people stored or shared on a larger level.

I posted the notes through letterboxes and I was amazed by the response: Within 24 hours I (virtually) met 15 of my neighbours, and they were so keen to help others they started delivering more letters and expanding our group.

While these local groups were being set up across Bristol, a number of people have been working to provide support structures at a postcode or city-wide level. There’s the BS5 mutual aid group, who are hosting weekly remote meetings, managing a solidarity fund, setting up a website with helpful information and signposting for support. There’s Base and Roses and the National Food Service providing meals and food packages for anyone who needs them. There’s also a group set up to support those coordinating mutual aid groups across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. One thing I’ve done to contribute to all this is to write some safeguarding advice for local groups, ensuring they are considering how we are helping while protecting any vulnerable neighbours.

These small acts add up to have a huge impact when people are feeling anxious and isolated

These local groups have offered all sorts of support. We are picking up prescriptions for people in isolation, delivering baby wipes, sharing seeds and compost to keep kids busy, swapping puzzles and offering friendly phone calls. These small acts add up to have a huge impact when people are feeling anxious and isolated. I previously knew just my next door neighbours, and I’m now connected with more than 50 people living in nearby streets – we are going to have one hell of a party when this is over! Many groups have set up social activities, like online quizzes, and in Banner road in St Pauls the whole street had a socially distanced disco!

Often those most in need of help won’t have access to this, and in these cases requests may come from family or neighbours. These requests are posted to the rest of the group and fulfilled by whoever is available. Ideally groups will ‘buddy up’ neighbours, to support those who are isolating, therefore encouraging the building of a relationship and emotional support as well. We have received messages of thanks from concerned families across the country, grateful we are making contact and offering to help their elderly relatives in the city. My own grandad died last month, unrelated to coronavirus, but due to the infection risks I knew that I couldn’t go back to North Devon to see him for his final hours. I do hope that some of what we are doing here can bring comfort to others who are disconnected from their vulnerable family members at the moment.

So many people wish to volunteer right now that many of the usual organisations are oversubscribed. The NHS have had to pause recruitment to their volunteering programme because they couldn’t keep up with applications. As our institutions are struggling to coordinate all those wanting to help, we are building our own structures of support, to complement existing systems and add resilience to our society.

Mutual Aid is currently trying to work out what further support can be offered, perhaps a decision making structure across the city which creates a new kind of democracy. My hope is that this will engage more Bristolians in their local communities and citywide issues, and people will feel empowered to create change in the city.


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • You’re a great person and looks like you linked up to other great people!
    This’ll be soo life changing afterwards…keep going!!!!!


Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

‘The city needs to heal’: Cable readers on what should happen now, following the ‘Colston 4’ trial

The future of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue and the space it occupied are still contested in Bristol. We asked what should happen next.

Bristol risks becoming a graveyard of cycling ambition

Promoting safety for cyclists has a positive knock-on effect for health, air pollution and the climate crisis – but without enough political will, funding or decent planning, getting people into the saddle will be an uphill battle.

City Leap launch delayed again

A £1billion venture to speed up Bristol’s decarbonisation has been delayed by a few more months, pushing the total cost of the project to council...

Budget cut proposals face criticism ahead of crucial council vote

Opposition councillors have responded to the Labour administration's plans to fill a £19m hole in the city’s finances. After last year’s election results, the mayor needs cross party support to get his budget approved. 

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with the new sheriff in town, Chief Constable Sarah Crew on crime, protest and if the police can be an “anti-sexist and anti-racist” force

With Bristol likely to continue to be at the forefront of protest as well as other criminal justice issues, time will tell how Crew’s “citizens in uniform” interact with the rest of the city.

MP urges council to stop housing families at Imperial Apartments, as documents reveal concerns over ‘incompetent’ security

Documents seen by the Cable confirm issues reported by residents at the controversial South Bristol apartment block.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday