One Month In

It’s been just under four weeks since Oxford Mutual Aid received its first donation. We want to thank everyone who has contributed. There have been many incredibly generous donations, and every pound has made a real difference.

We also want to thank Unite at OUP, the Oxford & District Trade Union Council, and Wadham College for their financial support, as well as Open Collective and the Social Change Agency for helping us raise funds on this platform.

Beyond money, we have received supplies and help from University College, Merton College, St. Anne’s College and are talking to many others about possible partnerships. 

What Have We Done?

Part of what we do is simply to connect volunteers with people who cannot leave the house and need to purchase supplies. However, there are many people in need who cannot afford to purchase food or necessary supplies, or who find themselves in need of more specialist help.

Our focus is finding the gaps in the existing aid infrastructure. We do not want to replicate existing services – where possible, we signpost those in need to the appropriate agency or organization. Still, there are more and more cases in which, if we do not provide aid ourselves, it will not be supplied at all.

We are lucky enough to have healthcare professionals and experienced case workers among our volunteers, and we have been working with relevant agencies and organizations to get help where it is needed.

We are now providing regular help to 119 households. In addition, we have:

  • Helped house 12 homeless people
  • Supported 18 new and expectant mothers 
  • Delivered food and supplies to over 200 vulnerable households
  • Made 2,100 food deliveries to NHS and care home staff, and other key workers

We will be launching new initiatives in the coming weeks. For our Ramadan outreach, we are purchasing and delivering Halal meat parcels to low income families. We are partnering with local community organisers Syrian Sisters to investigate the possibility of delivering hot meals to vulnerable households during Ramadan. 

We are also working with Oxford Homeless Movement to source food and other basic essentials for people who are homeless and precariously housed. This week alone we have sourced thousands of toiletries and sanitary items for homeless shelters to redistribute. 

In addition, we have set up Kitchen Collective – a project which will connect professional kitchens, suppliers, chefs, and at-risk groups in need of hot meals. We are presently launching our first collaboration, which involves supplying meals to Age UK clients, with the generous assistance of University College. We are also in discussion with several schools about providing meals to children who normally receive free school lunches. 

How Did We Spend Donations?

We have spent £2,782 so far. You can check each expense right here on Open Collective. We are being as frugal as possible, and we are only spending money when it is not possible to source supplies for free.

So far, all expenses have been for supplies, services, and accommodation for people in need, with the addition of petrol costs for delivery. In the next few days we will also purchase a few software tools – those we cannot source for free – to help us remain organized as we take on more work.

What Will the Next Few Months Look Like?

We will continue to build our capacity, and we will need to adapt as the situation changes. There has been much talk about when lockdown will end, and many are looking forward to getting out of the house by the summer. We don’t want to depress anyone, but we think it’s important to be realistic about the scale and the duration of this crisis.

It is unclear how the UK will transition out of lockdown. We might be facing periodic cycles of relaxation of quarantine measures followed by spikes in infection. Many people in OMA are worried about the coming winter and the effect Covid-19 will have on the annual winter crisis.

While it does not feature in the news as much, the knock-on effect of the pandemic on pre-existing aid efforts and government services is a crisis in of itself. Demand has gone up and capacity has gone down.

You have probably encountered this yourself or know someone who has. Lifelines that many of us count on have been cut off. Fewer social workers can make their rounds. Life-saving operations have been postponed indefinitely. Many charities have closed entirely. It is likely the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Lastly, we are anticipating the effects of a severe economic depression. Many of us, even those who consider themselves financially stable, are one payday away from serious financial difficulty. Widespread job loss will drastically increase the number of us who need help. Budget shortfalls will also reduce the amount of help local councils can provide.

What Will We Do About It?

We can hope for the best, but we need to prepare for the worst. We are currently working on the assumption that OMA will need to keep operating for some considerable time. We would love to be proved wrong, but it would be irresponsible not to start thinking beyond lockdown to the medium-term future.

We are now reviewing the systems that have evolved, rationalizing them, and role sorting. Our goal is to systematize as much as possible, especially as we are now partnering with many external organizations.

We are also building up capacity. Those of us who have specialized professional expertise are training up others. We are bringing in new volunteers and shifting workloads around so that no one person is indispensable.

Can I Get Involved?

Yes! If you have time to spare, please fill in our form or get in touch at Everyone is welcome, though we are particularly interested in anyone with the following skills:

  • Healthcare and mental health professionals
  • Healthcare and mental health students  
  • Experienced case workers
  • Tech workers or students
  • Accountants or anyone with practical bookkeeping experience
  • Lawyers or law students
  • Administrators and experienced organizers

If you don’t have these skills but still want to help, don’t worry. There’s plenty of work to do, and we could always use an extra pair of hands. Please be patient if we take a while to reply.

What is Mutual Aid? Where Did All These Groups Come From?

Mutual Aid is a theory of organizing, not a national organization. However, as you might expect, larger groups are reaching out to one another. We are sharing resources with several groups and hope to build these networks as time goes on.

Mutual Aid is about solidarity rather than charity. Many of those volunteering also receive support in one form or another. It can be hard to ask for help, especially if you have never had to do it before, but we encourage you to get in touch if you are struggling or if you are worried about a loved one.

That invitation stands regardless of who you are and what your circumstances might be. We know what happens when people begin to separate those who deserve help from those who do not. This is the beginning of what might be a very hard road; we all need to commit to protecting one another without exception.