Paul Swift: mutual aid organiser

There are few people who will one day look back at 2020 and not see it changed them in some way. We wanted to find out what lockdown (the first one) was like for a variety of the population, and how they have emerged as different people. One phrase that was said in nearly every interview was “the new normal”. That means many things to many people, as we discovered:

“I anticipated the lockdown, so we prepared early. I have an elderly uncle who is a vulnerable person, and that made me think. While big organisations take time to respond, we could be ready from the start.

“Friends in Derby had set up Mutual Aid groups, so I had something to work from. A Facebook group was set up after a bit of research and promoted on Beeston Updated. I was astounded that within 24 hours we had over 1,000 members. People wanted to help. As we grew, we looked at ways to facilitate getting people to organise on more local levels, street by street. People with different skill-sets offered help so we could run as tightly as possible: for instance, an IT expert worked out how best to set up networks.

“We didn’t want to step on the toes or duplicate the work of existing charities or local authorities: this had to be hugely cooperative. We had to keep it clear: help others to help themselves help others. The response was tremendous in those dark days: streets came together via WhatsApp and leafleting. It pulled people together and helped with isolation. Politics and other differences were put aside: we all worked towards that basic human instinct of helping others.

“People will always need community, virus or no virus”

‘As lockdown eased, it might be thought that these groups were no longer needed. But we aren’t out of the woods yet, far from it. This time though, we know how to look after each other. People will always need a community, virus or no virus.

‘I’d like us to reflect on how we can develop community, how we can collectively aspire to a better future. We’ve had a taste of lower pollution, cleaner air, communities working together.

“We proved we can do these things. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore my neighbourhood, and spend time with my nine-year-old son Edward. He took it in his stride, interviewing family members, documenting the experience in a journal. He read loads of books and made the most of the time off. I think we’ll emerge from this better people. I’m an optimist: you have to be.”

MT

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