Covid - A Year On: Redbridge Mutual Aid proves to be pillar of community
- Credit: Redbridge Mutual Aid
The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a spotlight on many of society's unsung heroes, with nurses, supermarket workers and bus drivers among those credited for keeping the country going.
Volunteers can be added to that list, including the Redbridge Mutual Aid group, who formed in March last year as coronavirus began to take hold.
Formed as something of a one-stop shop to help people across the borough, its co-founders Tanya Salinder, Habiba Alli and Genevieve Carnell have spent the last 12 months striving to make an extremely difficult situation slightly less so.
As part of the Recorder's Covid - A Year On series, the trio discussed life at the coalface of a pandemic.
Tanya launched the Redbridge branch after hearing how other Mutual Aid groups had formed around the country on the radio.
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She said: "Knowing very few residents in the area at the time, I found my two co-organisers very early on and many other volunteers were and still are eager to help their fellow residents through this difficult time."
Those co-organisers - Habiba and Genevieve - are firmly embedded in Redbridge life, which allowed the project to help more than one thousand families.
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Listing single mothers, those fleeing domestic violence, elderly/shielding patients, low-income families, children and those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) among the groups they have helped, Habiba says community drives everything: "We have created a really good rapport with the community; ultimately that is how this has been set up.”
This sentiment is equally felt by Genevieve: "The one thing that has made it possible for us to keep going is the support of our community. Redbridge doesn’t often get the credit it deserves - the people here rally around to help whoever needs it and truly have hearts of gold.
"To everyone who has pitched in this year - thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It’s no exaggeration to say we simply couldn’t do it without you."
This gratitude was reflected in the group's first birthday celebrations on March 13, a day used as an opportunity to look back at the whirlwind of the past year.
Some 600 volunteers signed up at the time of formation, with many of those still active as need remains high in the borough.
One of the group's most important relationships is with Frenford Youth Club, whose operations manager Irfan Shah has been instrumental in helping Redbridge Mutual Aid run its food provision service efficiently.
Three facilities were originally in place across the borough until a few months into the pandemic, when the decision was taken to operate solely out of the youth club's Ilford site.
According to Genevieve, this arrangement ensured the group could reach the 170 families who were receiving parcels at the peak of the pandemic.
One service user, Georgia Bakiene, found herself turning to the group for help when she was made homeless in May.
Georgia - who has been living in temporary accommodation in Newbury Park for the past year - found herself unable to work due to mental health issues while supporting her partner who also couldn't work: "Redbridge Mutual Aid has allowed us to eat and keep us alive pretty much, without them, we would have starved by now, we would have nothing.
"Not only have they helped us with foodbank deliveries, but when reaching out for other donations on the Facebook page, people always respond and are happy to help."
While Tanya finds it "hard to believe" the group is in the same place, she's confident community support will help leave people "better than we found them".
For Habiba, the future is clear: "We’ll stop when there’s no poverty."
Describing the last year as "tumultuous - and that’s an understatement", Genevieve hopes to welcome new members to the Mutual Aid community in the future.
For further information, visit Redbridge Covid-19 Mutual Aid on Facebook.