‘Spaces like ours are vital to community wellness and public health, but are under threat’ – the founder of May Project Gardens speaks out

Bootcamp graduate Ian writes about his award-winning May Project Gardens, and why he needs help now to secure the future of the project.

In 2007, I co-founded a community garden in memory of my mother, May. I wanted to create a legacy for her, so decided to turn our derelict council house garden into a community space.

Growing up, I witnessed how my mum suffered from mental illness and the lack of mental health provision for her whole life. I saw first hand how she was marginalised in multiple ways, as a Black woman. I also saw the importance of having access to green spaces, land, food growing, and a vibrant, loving community. How all of these things were vital to her health and wellbeing.

As I grew older I began to see that I was experiencing some of the same marginalisation she had also faced. I realised there were many other people facing racism and neglect, and other types of marginalisation, and I felt like I needed to do something about it. I’ve always been an action-oriented person, so I wanted to do something I could see the results of. Something that would directly connect me to people who might have been facing marginalisation as my mum did, and like I did and do still today.

This led me to found May Project Gardens in 2007. The gardens are open to the public and were founded with the purpose of reconnecting people to nature for personal, social and economic transformation. Since 2007 we’ve worked with marginalised individuals and communities across London and beyond. I believe that there is real power in the margins. Our gardens exist to support people to find and use that power.

The site in South London houses several fruit and vegetable growing beds, a polytunnel, and is open to all those interested in learning and/or sharing skills and knowledge in permaculture, horticulture and community development. On Sundays, our site is open to the public. We share food, work on the garden together, swap stories and knowledge, and grow community together.

A picture of the arms, torso and legs of Ian, a Black man in a black ‘May Project Gardens’ t-shirt and jeans. He is holding a large handful of soil. In the background there is twigs and plants.

The site was designed using Permaculture principles, advocating working with nature not against her, to fulfil our needs. We base a lot of the work we do around principles found in nature. For example, a lot of people think we only engage with Black people or People of Colour because we’re a Black-led organisation, but that’s not true! We encourage diversity in our community because nature has shown that the most resilient ecosystems are biodiverse ones. We reflect this in our work by making sure we reach out to and engage people of all races, genders, sexualities, ages, education levels, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Our Hip Hop Garden programme serves young accompanied minors and refugees and young people from urban areas connect with nature through Hip Hop culture. At May Project Gardens, we’re all about providing practical, affordable, and collective solutions for people to live sustainably and disengage with power structures that don’t serve their interests. That’s what we’re doing at the moment with the Hip Hop Garden, through teaching the participants how to make their own housing structures using sustainable materials like straw.

Our biggest challenge now is centred around housing and a secure, safe place to settle and thrive. We desperately need help and investment so that we can become self-sufficient in the midst of this global pandemic. In the 14 years that we’ve been running, we’ve always focussed on helping the most marginalised members of our society. We’ve helped young black boys who’ve found themselves homeless, we’ve supported refugees, we’ve worked with people with mental health challenges. But we’ve never had to weather a storm like the one we find ourselves in now.

Due to systemic racism and the legacy of colonialism and slavery, Black land and homeownership is extremely low. Black people have the lowest rates of homeownership in the UK. Despite being an award-winning project commended by the Mayor of London, and having a track record of doing real valuable community work, we’re struggling to stay open. And in our minds, that’s due to community work by Black-led organisations not being valued as it should be.

All we need to ensure the sustainability of the project is a secure location and home. Spaces like ours are vital to community wellness and public health but are under threat in this current climate. Covid-19 has caused many of us to reconsider what matters to us, what society we want to be a part of and what community we want to build.

As a small project with a big vision, we need to raise £25,000 towards a deposit to buy our premises and secure our future against all uncertainty. If you value the things I’ve been talking about, please consider supporting us. Here are some of the ways you can help out:

Donate
If you can spare a few pounds, please visit our crowdfunder and donate: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/growmpg. We’re nearly 60% through our fundraiser, but we’ve still got over £10,000 to go until we hit our target. There’s a range of rewards on offer for different donations, from seasonal veg boxes to t-shirts and our Hip Hop Garden EP.

If you aren’t able to donate, please share it with your friends, family and networks.

Visit us
Our garden is based in Morden and is open to the public every Sunday from 12-4 pm. Anyone can visit – whether you’ve never done any type of gardening before, or are a horticulture expert! If you’d like to let us know you’re visiting, or have any questions, email [email protected] with the subject ‘Visiting the garden’.

Volunteer
Since the beginning of May Project Gardens, volunteers have been crucial to our work and growth. To volunteer with us, get in touch on [email protected] and let us know what you’d like to do!

You can find out more about May Project Gardens at www.mayproject.org

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