More than a COVID-19 response: Sustaining mutual aid groups during and beyond the pandemic

Maria Fernandes-Jesus, Guanlan Mao, Evangelos Ntontis, Chris Cocking, Michael McTague, Anna Schwarz, Joanna Semlyen, John Drury

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Mutual aid groups have been an indispensable part of the public response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have provided many forms of support, in particular grocery shopping which has enabled people to self-isolate if required. While community solidarity during emergencies and disasters is common, previous studies have shown that such solidarity behaviors tend to decline over time, even when needs remain high. In this study, we address how mutual aid groups can be sustained over time in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted 32 interviews with organizers of COVID-19 mutual aid and community support groups in the United Kingdom between September 2020 and January 2021. Based on a reflexive thematic analysis, we identified several community and group level experiences and strategies that were related to sustained participation in COVID-19 mutual aid groups. Meeting community needs over time with localized action and resources and building trust and community-based alliances were foundational elements in the COVID-19 mutual aid groups. Group processes strategies, such as a culture of care and support and regular group meetings, were used to help to sustain involvement. Some experiences resulting from participation in COVID-19 mutual aid groups were also related to sustained participation, including positive emotions (e.g., joy, pride), well-being and sense of efficacy, and an increasing sense of local community belonging and cohesion. Based on these findings, we propose four practical recommendations for sustaining mutual aid groups to assist public engagement with protective behaviors in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We recommend providing practical and financial support to COVID-19 mutual aid groups; to mobilize the knowledge and the experiences acquired by COVID-19 mutual aid groups for developing programs and interventions for addressing the medium and long-term impacts of COVID-19; to prioritize community-level interventions; and to recognize the role of group processes as these have the potential to lead to long-term community responses. These approaches will be key for ensuring that communities effectively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number716202
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • community solidarity
  • community support
  • mutual aid
  • pandemic
  • social identity
  • volunteering

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