Our neighbourhood always enjoys an excuse for community “things”, like our annual street party. In early March, as COVID stories came closer to home, we set up a group to support vulnerable local people. We called it RTKW, from the the streets inside its footprint – Rosebery, Thornbury, Kingswood, Wingford. Other nearby roads later joined, but we kept the name.
The first couple of weeks were spent setting up a governance structure and executive committee to provide maximum protection for the most vulnerable in our community. The Met Police proved extremely helpful – their liaison officer was vital in early lockdown. We didn’t know how bad things might be, so governance covered even the grimmest situations.
In fact, we never had more than 15 of our 150 members in direct need of assistance. We were many volunteers without much to do! Then longer-term needs struck us: mental health was challenging for both volunteers and those being helped. RTKW arranged popular community “events” in deepest lockdown – a book collection for Brixton Prison, our joint-venture with Urban Growth to provide wildflower seeds, we even made a music video!
Fixing weak points
When groups set up quickly in times of need it’s important to spot weak points and fix them as best as possible, soon. The covidmutualaid.org site said we’d be removed from listings, partly because sharing data with the Met was incompatible with national MAG ideology. From our side, we didn’t see how their model could provide maximum protection in an unknown, potentially lengthy period of instability. But as a result, processes were tightened, and security increased on both sides.
Next year’s challenge?
Six months have passed. Although the group has scaled down services, we’re still supporting key workers and vulnerable people. Many of us are returning to work and have less free time; many are looking for work. I suspect our role in the next 12 months will be supporting those affected by poverty as much as about COVID. It’s been challenging, but our streets have become closer. We no longer walk down our streets without a wave, or a hello. Whilst COVID’s legacy is devastating, our sense of community is definitely warmed up.
- See the RTKW music video