In the face of crisis, voluntary groups have sprung up to provide practical services and support. In the space of six days, more than 1,800 informal volunteer groups emerged under Covid Mutual Aid UK, an umbrella organisation. The groups mostly organise on social networks and provide food shopping or dog walking for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, but also emotional support with phone calls to people who live alone.
"It's for anyone who needs to self isolate who doesn't have the social structures around them to do that safely," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Covid Mutual Aid UK. The network has issued guidelines for volunteers that comply with government recommendations and medical advice on how to operate. "No one is meant to go into anyone's houses, they should leave shopping on the front door and avoid personal contact," said Smith.
Seren John-Wood helped to establish the first mutual aid group in south London last week, sent out leaflets explaining how people can set up a local network.
"It's striking how quickly and passionately people engaged with the idea of coming together as communities to help people," said John-Wood, a 23-year-old student. "The more local it is, the more flexible so that people are really able to respond to the specific needs of their communities, rather than coordinating a national network which may not be the most effective way of helping people quickly." He continued, "While this crisis is affecting everyone, what's becoming increasingly clear are the huge social inequalities in our society. Community networks are a rejection of the politics of division that have characterised the UK over the last few years. It's a way of showing solidarity."