Slung Low’s food bank was, like its theatre performances, a large-scale production. But it was by no means the only initiative of its kind to emerge during the pandemic. Over the past 18 months, 4,000 mutual aid groups formed across the country, staffed by millions of volunteers, who patched together safety nets for those in need. Whether delivering food, helping elderly people or supporting those with deteriorating mental health, many mutual aiders fast realised that help is a two-way street. For some, it provided an immediate way to practise political values. Other volunteers I spoke with said it offered them meaning and purpose in a way that actual, paid work did not.
Could this flourishing of mutual aid and volunteering have a sustainable effect on the way we do politics, or will it simply evaporate as the pandemic recedes from view? Regular contact with Holbeck’s community, many of whom live in deprivation, has been an altering experience for Slung Low volunteers, one they can neither forget nor untie themselves from. Food banking is an exchange of much more than groceries: care, connection and trust passes between people, too. “We are part of the community and beholden to each other now,” Alan Lane, the theatre’s artistic director, told me when I visited the food bank in June.
The only pity here is that The Guardian doesn’t realise it’s echoing Burke and all that stuff about the little platoons. They’re just too ignorant to see the connection.