Hands across the borough: Lambeth Mutual Aid

In that all too brief window during summer 2020, where community spirit and solidarity urgently came into view as everything else was upended, I noticed some friends from Punk World had signed up to help with a group called LAMBETH MUTUAL AID, offering assistance to anyone who needed it during that chaotic time, and in a spirit of radical solidarity which harked back to Lambeth’s radical path (and instead of whatever platitudes Philip Normal and the like were offering at the time. Remember him?) The group has been running a Solidarity Fund over the past four years, which is there to give £30 to anyone who is stuck in a situation where a food shop, electric top up or phone card is one bill too many, with no qualifiers or barriers to applying.

Fast forward to 2024 and it’s been brilliant to see that the group is still incredibly active and there to help people through cost of living crises and all such chaos that we’re stuck with today. Keeping to a plan of wealth distribution over charity, the group has been organising monthly meet-ups and coffee mornings to provide warm spaces for scheming, banner painting, sharing food and resources.

And of course, being an organisation with punk rockers in the mix, they’ve been putting on benefit gigs at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, all in aid of raising more cash for the Fund and giving everyone a great night out in the process. Here’s a chat with Maddy and Tom from the group…

AS: How have the priorities changed (or not!) since Lambeth Mutual Aid started in 2020?

Maddy: There’s a huge difference between responding to social pressures in an emergency and reactive way, and responding as a daily practice. That difference is key to how priorities have changed: although on the surface maybe what we do seems pretty much the same, what we’re constantly trying to figure out is how to live mutual aid, not just how to help someone for a bit and then go back to “normal” life. Normal in Lambeth is massive financial inequality, some people living in houses valued at £2-3 million while others live on the streets, mental health crises, school to prison pipeline, violent policing… Our Solidarity Fund and social events ­— benefit gigs, monthly cafes, open invitation organising meetings — are a minuscule intervention against this reality, but right from the beginning these are the priorities that have underpinned the desire within Lambeth Mutual Aid to think about how everyone can access the care that they need.

AS: Being able to offer solidarity payments without any qualifiers in a country where that feels vanishingly rare (I’m thinking here of the wait for Universal Credit causing claimants to take out hardship loans) is powerful but I can imagine tricky at the moment. How easy/hard is it to raise funds and has the cost of living crisis exacerbated that?

Maddy: Raising funds is really hard, not just in terms of getting people to give when all of their living costs are rising, but for how it impacts wider understandings of what we do. It makes us look like a charity, so there’s a lot of work to be done to emphasise what it means to do this as a mutual aid/solidarity group. Central to that is our “no questions, no judgement” approach to sharing the Solidarity Fund, working on a basis of trust that people asking for the money are best placed to know why they need it and what they need it for. However, that’s not a structure people always understand in terms of donating; it’s not like saying, here are some people who have experienced an earthquake. The fact that the crisis we are living in here is long-term and pervasive doesn’t make it less of a disaster, but charity as a model makes a lot more sense in this society than wealth redistribution.

AS: When did you decide to put on benefit gigs? Who’s your favourite radical punk rockers these days?

Tom: There’s always been a desire to do something more than just a solidarity fund or things around food or housing. Shows bring people together and when done well can help build community. We hope ours go some way towards that. Our upcoming benefit will have people from the Pie n Mash crew, Abolition’s Futures and Lambeth Copwatch. I guess as a collective we listen to all sorts of different things, but some fun london punks atm are GRUNT, SUBLUX, DEAD NAME, GRAZIA, PRESS.RELEASE, RUBBER, GAY SKELETON CLUB, TETHERED and GROSS MISCONDUCT (who are playing at our next benefit!)

AS: What’s your favourite example of mutual aid in punk/DIY in the UK today?

Tom: We’re inspired by How to Catch a Pig shows in south London, and Cryptic Growth ones up north. Ones which live by their principles and link up various struggles, angst and rage.The Queer House Party crew have been amazing, linking action, mutual aid and dance parties. First Timers Fest is a beautiful way of bringing more people into music and giving ppl the confidence to play and put on shows. Someone from the Grove DIY skate park has also started putting on a bunch of teen scremo and hardcore bands at a small cricket club which look amazing. We need more all ages shows and venues! And obviously Another Subculture/Repetitive Strain shows are always bangers!

You can find more information on Lambeth Mutual Aid and donate to their Solidarity Fund by going to lambethmutualaid.com; benefit gigs are planned further into the summer and we will carry all the details. Tom can also be found in ADULTS and in past issues of Alternative Strategies with the ‘News from the New School’ column about radical education in the UK; get finding a back issue!

As printed in Another Subculture’s May 2024 issue; get the latest paper by subscribing.

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