In Leicester the public response to the lockdown of the economy is being met with a surge in support for community volunteering. The Leicester Covid-19 Mutual Aid group has quickly been established in the city, with the aim of helping ans coordinating mutual support for vulnerable or isolating people at a street and neighbourhood level. I spoke with Rose Cattermole, who is one of the local volunteer coordinators of Mutual Aid in the city, about the challenges of getting the right support, and the kind of things that volunteers might be able to offer.
Rob Watson [00:00:00] All around the country, mutual aid groups have been springing up to support people as we go through a period of intense immobilisation due to the Corona virus. Here in Leicester, the LeicesterCovid-19 Mutual Aid group, is being set up to facilitate and support volunteering, and to help ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society aren’t left isolated. I’ve been talking with Rose Cattermole about the work of the mutual aid group and the kind of things they hope to see from volunteers over the coming weeks and months.
Rose Cattermole [00:00:37] Hi, I’m Rosalie Cattermole. I’m one of the admin leaders for Lester Covid-19 Mutual Aid group. And we’re basically a network of ordinary people across the UK, who have grouped together to ensure that we can work at the most local level, helping neighbours who are isolated and vulnerable throughout Covid-19.
Rob Watson [00:01:06] Describe to us what the mutual aid group is and what it seeking to do?
Rose Cattermole [00:01:12] So it’s seeking to match people up on a neighbourhood level, so we can find across Leicester and the UK, the most vulnerable people who need help with shopping, picking-up prescriptions. They might need a chat on the end of the phone, and other small errands that work under the government guidelines. Really just to make sure that everybody has somebody looking out for them.
Rob Watson [00:01:42] And you’ve used Facebook initially to start this. Just describe to us how you went about that and what the response has been like from people getting involved through social media channels.
Rose Cattermole [00:01:58] Yeah. So we started about eight days ago. There were, kind of, two separate Leicester ones beginning on the same day. And so we quickly merged on day one, and put across the different community pages across Leicester. What we’re doing, and quickly the numbers started to grow. So then we thought we’d better have a look at mutual aid website, see how they’re recommending us go about this, and then begin formulating how to get volunteers to sign up and separating them off into different areas of the city with ward leaders, who are leading those areas. And then further sub-categorise them into local facilities. And ultimately down to tiny WhatsApp groups of neighbourhoods.
Rob Watson [00:02:48] And has it been easy to bring those people together? What’s been the, kind of, main issue about communication and coordination?
Rose Cattermole [00:02:57] It’s been easy and hard. There’s lots of people out there that just want to get out and help people at the moment. So. In terms of if there’s ever a time to find a volunteer, I suppose Covid-19 is a good time. But at the same time, there are areas in Leicester where we are more sparse in volunteers. So we’ve been working alongside other organisations to try and get those neighbourhoods overseen on a bit more of a top down level. But for the most part, it’s just been a whirlwind of gathering lots and lots of people, trying to fit them in to a certain area, and making sure that they’re happy to come on board and help people.
Rob Watson [00:03:43] What are the kinds of things that people are volunteering to help with?
Rose Cattermole [00:03:48] So a lot of it is everyday essential things. So going to the shop for someone who’s not meant to be out the house, if they’re isolating, if they’re shielding, or if they’re in quarantine with symptoms. The other thing that we can help with, and we’ve got a pharmacist now on board who’s helping us co-ordinate this under the pharmacist guidelines, is picking up prescriptions from local pharmacies, as well as liaising with the hospital pharmacies in Leicester. We’ve got a whole team of people that are setting up the kind of well-being side of things. So offering phone calls out to people who might be worried or anxious or just lonely really, as well as some educational resources for kids and general support that people might need.
Rob Watson [00:04:42] And you mentioned that you are working with other support groups and support networks. Just describe a little bit about what that’s like.
Rose Cattermole [00:04:51] Yeah. So we’re working with we’ve got the Leicester City Council on board. We’re working alongside the ward councillors. We have MPs on board. We’re working with Voluntary Action Leicester, who’ve been amazing. They’ve just got going, but they’re also providing a lot of volunteers, as well as Leicester Aging Together, who are also providing a lot of volunteers. So lots and lots of different organizations trying to come together. In the past couple of days we’ve just managed to formulate a team of people that are dealing with engaging with other organizations and then feeding back to the main admin group. So there’s some kind of structure that’s coming together. At first, I would say it was slightly haphazard, but now with those particular volunteer roles being taken, it’s getting easier to liaise and collaborate with other organisations.
Rob Watson [00:05:50] What do you think the main areas of practical support to help organise are at the moment, that you need help with behind the scenes, if you like?
Rose Cattermole [00:06:02] Yes, we’re growing at a rate of knots. I can’t even tell you how fast we need help. We need help with administration and the back end. So people that are good with Excel. Google Docs. We are looking into security, holding information, which we’re working closely with the Mutual Aid UK wide group. In terms of how to hold data safely and making sure that we’re doing everything the best we can. So anyone with experience in data protection or the law side of things. People in PR we’re looking for, we’re looking for people to lead other areas that don’t necessarily fall under the wards of Leicester, such as Oadby and Wigston, There’s literally things coming out four or five times a day that we could really do with. But I’d say, administration, is something that we’re desperate for at the moment.
Rob Watson [00:07:03] And what are your communication needs?
Rose Cattermole [00:07:08] So at the moment, we’re using a program which we’ve kindly been funded by one of the counsellors, using the community file that’s open for Covid. So communication wise, I think things are slowly coming into place a bit more now. The things that are useful are media contacts and just getting the word out there so that people at home who are isolated can hear about us on the radio, see us on the TV, read about us in the papers and, other than Facebook. Obviously, there’s different ways that people can join us as well, so we can ask for volunteers from those places as well as offer to help people.
Rob Watson [00:07:54] And what kind of stories do you think are the most effective in terms of getting the right kind of volunteers and getting the right kind of support?
Rose Cattermole [00:08:08] I think the best way really is to… One, is to share the heart-warming stories at a local level, because we are a grassroots organisation and we’re just a bunch of people that want to help people that live nearest to us. So those kinds of stories are important, but also, to just say how robust we’re being. In choosing volunteers we’re trying to minimise risks of safeguarding as much as possible. Obviously, like any other organisation, there’s going to be risks that making sure that we’re doing everything under the guidance of Mutual Aid UK. We’ve got a safeguarding lead who’s regularly updating our volunteer guidance. So we want volunteers who are trustworthy, but also want to help people who live closest to them.
Rob Watson [00:09:02] What’s your… I mean, it sounds like you’ve not had time to stop really and look at the kind of national picture or even as the local the local picture starts to emerge. Is there anything that you’ve seen that you think is, you know, something to be avoided, or is a great example of things to be copied and emulated?
Rose Cattermole [00:09:27] Yeah, we have to say this is kind of local again, but we have to say thank you to Birstall because they were a couple of days ahead of us. And a lot of our model was based on the Birstall model. I know some of the other cities around have gathered many more volunteers than us. Up to 10,000 volunteers. So it’s something that we’re definitely working on. And there’s a big group of us in Mutual Aid Admin Group on Facebook from all the cities around the UK sharing ideas, with input from Mutual Aid UK, as well as speaking to Mutual Aid on the phone, if we need help with things like press. So there’s lots of collaboration across the UK, not just locally, but amongst the different mutual aid groups.
Rob Watson [00:10:15] There’s a tendency sometimes to focus on the digital technology. You mentioned earlier about using radio. Have you got any expectations, or suggestions, or ideas about how you can, maybe, use more traditional forms of media? You were on BBC Radio Leicester earlier. What can you expect to do in the future with those platforms?
Rose Cattermole [00:10:45] Yes. So in terms of our relationship with the BBC Radio Leicester, we’ve been able to go on every hour today looking for volunteers, and just telling the public a bit about what we’re doing. So if people are sat at home isolated and vulnerable, they can call into the radio. The radio have got in touch with us about a few people that we’ve managed to then go on and help. In terms of other radio stations in Leicester, there’s a large Indian population, and that’s definitely something that we are aiming to tap into. We’d like to be able to talk to some of the Indian radio stations, and get the word out there about volunteering and help. And luckily one of our admin team speaks some of the Indian languages. So she’s going to be translating a lot of stuff for us, so that we can reach those perhaps harder to tap-into pockets, where people might not have internet, but still do listen to the radio. So that’s our hope with the kind of traditional methods really. To make sure that isolated people know we are there, and try and gain volunteers from those corners where people might not necessarily be on social media.
Rob Watson [00:11:59] Leicester has a high number of people who don’t speak English as a first language. I think it’s one of the highest in the country. That means that the challenge of using channels like the BBC, which broadcast in English, means it’s more difficult to get to those communities. We have Polish, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indian, you know, Turkish. There’s such a diverse… Somali. There’s such a mix of communities in Leicester. What kind of support you think we need to co-ordinate to be able to provide information for those communities in a wider range of languages?
Rose Cattermole [00:12:44] Yeah, that’s a really good question, actually. And one organisation that’s cropped up during Coronavirus is called Doctors of the World UK, and they are providing free translation, mainly of the government messages, but also lots of other health messages. So, it’s on our list of people to get in touch with, and I think it’s definitely something for us to explore, to try and translate into different languages, so that we can get those people that, as you say, English isn’t their first language.
Rob Watson [00:13:17] And local translation that’s relevant to local circumstances and neighbourhoods in the city and the surrounding areas.
Rose Cattermole [00:13:27] Yeah, exactly that.
Rob Watson [00:13:30] Is there anything that you can see as a kind of immediate priority? And then what you think might be needed, once we’ve got over the shock of this sudden wave of stopping everything. here are immediate messages that have the governments had to focus on go, you know, sending out. But then there’s a, kind of, how we get on with our lives message. And you mentioned well-being before. Is there anything that you can see that we can be doing to, kind of, maintain and use the channel channels of communication in perhaps a more creative kind of way?
Rose Cattermole [00:14:12] Yeah, definitely. And lots of our volunteers have been offering things like using Zoom to host wellbeing talks. And we’ve got artists who’ve offered to do kind of digital classes. There’s people who are trained counsellors who are willing to call people, and people who aren’t trained councillors willing to call people. There’s lots and lots of emphasis on communication, and in some ways I think, although we’re socially isolated, we’re actually more connected.
Rob Watson [00:14:47] Yeah, it’s definitely something that’s different this time around. The number of Zoom conversations I’ve had, and invitations to different platforms, is certainly is, kind of, growing by the day. What’s the best way for people to get in contact with the group and any of the local groups within Leicester?
Rose Cattermole [00:15:09] So the best way to get us, if you can volunteer to help, would be go to our Facebook page, which is Leicester Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group, and on there is a step-by-step for new volunteers, and you’ll be able to find out using the local council website which ward you are in according to your post code, and then join the relevant group. Again, if someone you know needs help, then you can also post on that page and we have a team of people directing people to the right groups, and the right help. If you yourself are isolated and need help and you have access to Facebook, then that’s a good place to start. But what the team has been doing over the past week or so, is dropping leaflets into their local neighbours, with their phone number on, and a list of things they can help with. So if you’ve had one of our Mutual Aid Spreading Kindness leaflets through the door with a number on, then please, please, do get in touch. If you think you need some assistance and we’ll be able to help you, hopefully.
Rob Watson [00:16:18] Have you got that number to hand?
Rose Cattermole [00:16:21] It’s separate, so it’s roughly one per-road. It will be a local neighbour who signed up to volunteer through us. So it’s not a central number, it will be on the leaflet. In terms of central numbers, if there’s people out there who haven’t yet had a leaflet, then two of our partners are happy to have people call them. And then we liaise together about how to help people. And they are Voluntary Action Leicestershire, which 01162575050. And Leicester Aging Together, which is 01162488850.
Rob Watson [00:17:07] And in terms of regular updates and progress checks. Is that something that people are planning to do?
Rose Cattermole [00:17:15] Definitely. So we mapped out Leicester, and we’ll be ticking-off the roads as we’ve leafleted. So we know that those houses have a number they can call. And will then we will be looking at the map to see where there’s areas where there are less volunteers. And that’s when we’ll bring in Voluntary Action Leicestershire, and Leicester Aging Together, and work with them to make sure people have what they need.
Rob Watson [00:17:39] Well, that sounds very well organised from a very short standing start. So good luck with everything. And if there’s anything in the community, media networks in Leicester that we can help promote, I think we’re, you know, we’ll keep in contact, and we’ll share as much information as we can across the coming days and weeks.
Rose Cattermole [00:18:02] Thank you. And thank you very much for having us on.