Community Support Groups – A new force in a new world

In which Stuart Bourne talks us through the Mutual Aid Road Reps Community Initiative, and how such groups might continue in a post-coronavirus world..

Mutual Aid Road Reps - Community Initiative - a Food and Drink ...

It’s fair to say that this country is going through some traumatic times, and yet that trauma has spawned many acts of kindness. We have all seen them, from the wonderful support shown for Captain Tom to the support of the NHS and care workers shown on every Thursday evening. But nothing is more symbolic of this kindness than the multitude of community support groups that have sprung up across the country. These groups have provided a vital service in getting shopping to people, picking up prescriptions, and even providing a person to talk to over the phone. They have reassured people that no one is alone at the moment. I myself have been working with the Mutual Aid Road Reps (MARR) group of volunteers in Medway since March. Yet are these groups just around until the crisis is over, or are we witnessing the start of a revolution of community cooperation and mutualism that will impact our political landscape?

I imagine most of the groups have started very much like ours did. You have one or two people, who are already community spirited, who see the crisis unfolding and know they have to do something. Then there are people who have never thought about volunteering before, but the extreme nature of the crisis has awoken a desire to help that has been dormant inside them. And then you have those people who have been active in the community for years, community leaders, local politicians or charity workers. Years of experience has shown them that there will be a lot of work for people to do. Then all these people end up coming together, normally through social media, and they begin to be organised. There’s a WhatsApp group setup, maybe even a Facebook group. Soon they grow bigger as word is spread, maybe several groups even merge to share resources. Then suddenly before you know it, the ad hoc group has turned in well-funded, well-structured organisation, which is filled with dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. As of the end of April, MARR has well over 150 registered volunteers from across the Medway towns, with new members joining each day. We are organised into several areas of Medway, with a dedicated Admin officer assigned to organise each area, and with a dedicated WhatsApp group to distribute tasks to people.

This is a lot of people willing to join a brand new organisation, and they are coming from many different backgrounds. Yet, they all seem to be gravitating together under the same simple idea. The idea that COVID-19 threatens the people of community like nothing before, and the only way to fight it is for the community to come together to ensure no one is left behind. But alongside this is the concepts of mutual aid, which has spread from many different groups across the country. Mutual aid is where a group of people organise themselves to meet their own needs, which is outside the formal structure of existing governmental organisations or charities. It’s about people coming together, in a spirit of solidarity, to support and look out for one another. And this emerging feeling of community solidarity isn’t just isolated in those people volunteering. From my experience of talking to the people I’ve helped, there has been a consistent comments of ‘where has this been?’ and ‘once the crisis is over, I hope this keeps going.’ So whether the Covid crisis has created this feeling, or it’s been bubbling under the surface for years, there is a good chance that this will still be around after we have returned to some level of normality.

The next question is where would these groups fit within the political landscape in that new world. This is hard to predict as they have much more longevity than other single issue community groups that have often shaped local elections. An example would be the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, which was formed to fight the civic complex development, but is now haemorrhaging councillors back to the conservatives. It is also hard to predict as the ethos of mutual aid is for communities to take care of themselves outside the normal government control. This makes them oddly politically non-political and wary of working within local politics. Finally, many volunteers are not politically minded and are members to simply help people. It would be far from certainty whether they would switch their time for any other reason. 

However, what I can predict is that these groups should not be ignored. From my own experience of MARR, they are filled to the brim with enthusiastic and dedicated people. People who are willing to drop anything to help deliver shopping, prescriptions, and offer a friendly chat to anyone alone. I have seen nearly the whole of Medway leafleted within a month (something many political parties would be jealous of during an election) to make sure no one is forgotten about or missed. And we have had nothing but positive responses from many people, even those who did not need our immediate help have been grateful and appreciative. They have even told me that we have restored their faith in humanity. That sort of political muscle and high favourables would be the envy of any Medway political party, let alone a normal community group.

It is hard to predict what the future will be like in a post-covid world. Yet it’s also hard to imagine that the many community support groups, whose beginnings have been forged in the traumatic world of a pandemic, will not play a major role in shaping that future.

If you would like to contact MARR or volunteer to assist in our work, you can email us at mutualaidroadreps@gmail.com, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Stuart Bourne became politically active in 2005, helping to re-elect the Chatham & Aylesford MP Jonathan Shaw. He became the branch secretary for Chatham Labour Party, and stood as a Labour candidate for the local council elections in 2007 and 2011. He moved away from Medway in 2012, but has now moved back as a Liberal Democrat.

Voice of the Opposition: May

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.


So, the lockdown continues to impact here in Medway, across the country, and the globe. 

Let me begin this month’s Political Medway column by taking a moment to pause and reflect for all those families across Medway who have lost family and friends at this most difficult of times.  

We hear daily figures of hundreds of individuals losing their lives to CoVid-19 and it can become easy with those large numbers to forget the very personal human impact of this public health crisis.  Alongside that with social distancing it means the normal procedures for funerals have been greatly restricted too, making the grieving process even more difficult for many.

Continue reading “Voice of the Opposition: May”

Voice of the Leader: April

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

What a time to be Leader of a council! Just when it seemed that the financial hand-cuffs where being slightly released, and we could start to see light at the end of a fiscally-constrained tunnel, something more sinister, more life-changingly deadly arrived.

Coronavirus – COVID-19 – swept from China, into Europe, and thence to the rest of the world and of course here in the UK. Few could have imagined the massive disruption to our lives, nor the way it would change our lifestyles and indeed our interpersonal relationships.

The deadly virus has been cutting a swath through our country and in that Medway has suffered too. Medway deaths have so far been mercifully modest. However, of course one additional death from this virus is one too many.

Continue reading “Voice of the Leader: April”

Improving political discourse for 2020

In which Anna McGovern, the Chair of Medway Youth Council, takes a look at the current state of our political conversations, and how things can be improved..

The political discourse in our society is fractured – and arguably, beyond repair. One could argue that our online discourse, in itself, is a broken mechanism, aside from the political sphere. When Caroline Flack tragically died, our collective response was to circulate the hashtag #BeKind across social media; a seemingly powerful message with the well-intended commission to implore a more “considerate” nature towards one another. That lasted mere days. Well-intended hashtags cannot shape the toxicity of our rampant society.  

Continue reading “Improving political discourse for 2020”

Political Figures: What next for Rochester and Strood?

In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects casts his eye over Rochester and Strood, and ponders what lies ahead for the constituency..

Ah, 2015, the year the World Health Organisation declared that rubella had been eradicated from the Americas, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was born, and, awkwardly, I’ve run out of positive events to highlight (I really should have thought this intro through before writing the first article).

It was also the last time any of Medway’s parliamentary constituencies changed hands.

In recognition of this unbroken run of Conservative representation in parliament, Messrs Jennings and Keevil have asked me to look at what has changed between the three most recent general elections. So, for my latest three-part mini-series I’ll be looking at the results for each of Medway’s three constituencies in turn.

Continue reading “Political Figures: What next for Rochester and Strood?”

Voice of the Opposition: March

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.


I write this Saturday evening after one of the most challenging weeks in modern history. 

Our community of Medway, our country and our planet are dealing with a pandemic which is having huge and lasting impacts.

Yesterday, Friday 19th March, saw the tragic announcement of the first death in Medway related to Coronavirus or CoVid19 – my thoughts are with his friends and family at this most difficult time for them.

The regrettable reality is that it is unlikely to be the only loss we see here in Medway and every single individual lost to this virus will be felt by the whole community – the community which has shown such tremendous examples of compassion for others in these early stages of this public health challenge.

Continue reading “Voice of the Opposition: March”

iFAQ: Councillor allowances

So it’s a bit of a weird time, but we’re all sitting at home, so what better time to start publishing some local politics articles again? They won’t be about the current situation, as most were already in the can before this kicked off. That being said, if anyone fancies writing something with a local angle on the current situation, hit us up.

Before we all locked ourselves away from the outside world, Medway had been facing some debate about the appropriate level of allowance for councillors. While most council staff received a 1% pay increase, councillor allowances increased by 14%. How much councillors receive is a complicated question, so we decided to ask every Medway councillor the following:

Do you feel the current allowance of £10,421 for councillors represents fair remuneration for the time spent carrying out your duties?

As usual, we told all of them that we would publish their responses unedited. You can find them below in the order they were received.

Continue reading “iFAQ: Councillor allowances”

Political Figures: What next for Gillingham and Rainham?

In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects looks at Gillingham and Rainham, and ponders how easily the Conservative hold on the constituency could be broken..

Ah, 2015, the year Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger sold for $179.3m, a new species of early human called Homo naledi was discovered and Lithuania became the nineteenth member of the Eurozone.

It was also the last time any of Medway’s parliamentary constituencies changed hands.

In recognition of this unbroken run of Conservative representation in parliament, Messrs Jennings and Keevil have asked me to look at what has changed between the three most recent general elections. So, for my latest three-part mini-series I’ll be looking at the results for each of Medway’s three constituencies in turn.

Continue reading “Political Figures: What next for Gillingham and Rainham?”

Are petitions fit for purpose?

In which Stuart Bourne ponders just how effective petitions can be as a means of campaigning..

Whether someone annoying you in the street with a clipboard in hand, or the image of a cart of signatures being wheeled to the doors of Downing Street, petitions can mean a lot to different people. They have always formed a link between public opinion and the government since medieval times. The greatest of these was the People’s Charter, the petition from the 19th Century Chartists movement that led us towards universal suffrage and modern democracy. The digital age has now revolutionised the petition, but has this led to more effective democracy or a simple distraction from real power.

Continue reading “Are petitions fit for purpose?”