UCL Laws LLB student Zak Dada recognised for Merton Mutual Aid volunteer scheme
23 April 2021
Merton Mutual Aid is a community network of volunteers formed to help vulnerable neighbours in quarantine and isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
First year LLB student Zak Dada was inspired to set up Merton Mutual Aid in March 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The group provided food and supplies to vulnerable neighbours and helped reduce social isolation and loneliness. He shared the network’s services in local Facebook groups and amongst local figures and from there, the group blossomed - gaining 1000 members within the first three days.
Currently, the work of Merton Mutual Aid is naturally winding down as there is significantly less demand for their services with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions easing in the UK. Zak also led a project facilitating the donation of furniture to people living in temporary accommodation. Although leadership has now been passed on to another local group, Zak remains involved in a reduced capacity organising donations.
Zak’s commitment to making a difference to the local community has received recognition both locally and nationally. In September 2020, Zak became a full-time student at UCL Laws and intends to continue volunteering later in life.
We spoke to Zak to find out more about his experience running Mutual Merton Aid, and the recognition the scheme has received.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of Merton Mutual Aid?
This is a hard question to answer. I would say looking back and remembering those vulnerable and elderly clients we assisted when there was no other service to help them is something I will remember forever. I've always enjoyed chatting to and helping elderly people and it was amazing to speak to people that I would never otherwise have had a chance to in my life and make a profound difference to their lives.
It's also so pleasing to look back in fond recollection of the many people I worked with who voluntarily gave their time and effort to help their neighbours. It really inspired me to be the best person I could be and help others.
You built up a team of 3000 volunteers – did you face any challenges or surprises in managing the volunteers?
I had no previous volunteer experience when I started Merton Mutual Aid and there were some challenges and surprises. One thing that surprised me was that I was never looked down on based on my age. I joined council meetings, spoke to people in their nineties, and worked with thousands of people but not once did others dismiss my views because of my age. This really encouraged me to work hard, unimpeded from criticism.
I would say a huge challenge was managing the number of requests and volunteers that were coming in - especially in the first few months. For a solid few months, I was working 12 hours a day solely at my computer trying to organise the group, keeping on top of 60 WhatsApp groups and countless emails. At no point did I lose motivation because it was so beneficial to see those who I was helping at a time where I would have otherwise been sat at home watching Netflix!
Your work has been recognised in the media, by Merton Council, and more. How did it feel being named as BBC Radio London’s Make a Difference Hero; and receiving a Points of Light Award?
When I started the group, I didn’t think about how long I would be in the role, how intensive it would be, or whether I would receive credit and recognition for my work. That being said, it was tremendous to receive these awards for my work as a token of gratitude for my services and a testament to the hard work of myself and so many others in Merton Mutual Aid.
I always make sure I share the news of any such recognition to the group and remind them that it is the efforts of every volunteer that went to making Merton Mutual Aid what it was. I must say, I was particularly chuffed to hear a volunteer and local councillor had named her nephew after me - that one will stick with me.
What advice would you give to prospective or current UCL Laws students who are thinking of volunteering?
I would say an important piece of advice is to not lose motivation because of your age, thinking that you won't be able to make a difference or be taken seriously. Also, groups like Merton Mutual Aid are only as important and beneficial as their individual members; you do not need to reinvent the wheel and create your own community initiative when you can instead join a local effort and start making a difference from tomorrow. To start volunteering, try your local foodbank or homeless shelter to start making a difference.
Find out more
- Listen to Zak’s interview with BBC Radio London
- Read more about Merton Mutual Aid on Points of Light