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A Magazine for Sheffield

Foodhall Mutual aid and Covid-19

Foodhall tell us more about their work, the importance of mutual aid and the implications of their organising in Britain's current political climate.

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A Foodhall volunteer makes the first delivery.

Amid the myriad mutual aid groups that have sprung up throughout Sheffield during the coronavirus pandemic, I turned in anticipation to Foodhall, a well-known community hub in the heart of the city centre.

Foodhall, a volunteer-powered mutual aid project, has had to drastically change its operations during the ongoing crisis. I spoke with two members of the Foodhall team to shed some light on their work, the importance of mutual aid, and the implications of Foodhall's organising in Britain's current political climate.

What has Foodhall had to do differently in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?

According to community food organiser Bevan Richardson, radical changes have been made: "We are distributing food, we are unable to have people gather, we are working with other groups in the city to put people who need food in touch with us, and we are spending more money on food than we ever have before."

The team has had to work tirelessly to ensure new safety protocols are adhered to while shifting their entire mode of operating. The space has been transformed from a social hub centred on the sharing of food, conversation and skills to a base for the provision of emergency food parcels.

As increasing numbers of food banks close during the crisis, this work has become more important than ever. Restaurants in the city have also had to close with much of their surplus food making its way to Foodhall's kitchen, where volunteers work throughout the week to fill containers with cooked food for those who need it.

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Foodhall makes the 'Foodhole'.

We've heard the term 'mutual aid' frequently over the past few weeks. What does it mean to Foodhall?

"Mutual aid is empathy," Foodhall volunteer Naomi told me. "It's an antidote to a toxic society, to capitalism, to corporations. And when you're helping other people you're also helping yourself. It's the realisation that you're all the same."

Bevan echoed these words. "Mutual aid groups are about doing things for each other and for ourselves, and one of the things we can do for ourselves is radically change the way society works. I hope that is something we can look at later, when we're over the horrendous situation we're in now."

It's important to remember that the concept of mutual aid has its roots in traditional anarchist thought. In anarchist theory, mutual aid is the antithesis of capitalism. It represents the relationships formed when profiteering is no longer the driver of our behaviour. For anarchists, mutual aid is inherently political.

In what way is what Foodhall does political?

To those involved with Foodhall, their organising goes beyond supporting others on an individual level and enters the realm of the political. By embodying a different way of living, a different way of surviving, Naomi suggests we can change the world from the bottom up. "It's the only way to change the world, the only way to make a better society. We have to make it where we are now."

For Bevan, the pandemic has exposed "the reality of ten years of austerity and 40 years of neoliberalism." A decade of cuts to NHS funding and devastating governmental policies neglecting society's most vulnerable has, for those working at Foodhall, laid bare neoliberalism's inability to protect us.

As a pillar of the National Food Service, Foodhall is calling for the government to financially support mutual aid groups tackling food insecurity, reduce barriers to accessing and distributing food, protect community spaces and increase access to facilities for public need.

What is the way forward for Foodhall?

"Who can say?" said Bevan. "It will be here, doing its best to be relevant and necessary in whatever situation we are in."

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