May Project Gardens, a council house situated in South West London, has built a community garden using permaculture principles.
The project has been servicing the most vulnerable members of our community over the last fourteen years and on a shoestring budget. It proves that social change can only occur when human connection and agency are valued.
Ian Solomon-Kawall founded the project in the memory of his late mother May, who suffered from mental illness her whole life. As her primary carer he witnessed firsthand the importance of having access to green spaces, land, food and growing a vibrant loving community.
The garden offers free public outdoor space, created by and for local residents, using recycled materials, donations and good will.
We have heard ourselves described as no ordinary garden because we work with marginalised members of society, including young black boys, unaccompanied refugee minors, and people with mental health challenges to address poverty, disempowerment and a disconnection from nature. This is no sound bite: people are at the heart of what we do.
May Project Gardens' reach has shown that global issues are felt - and must be faced - locally. Young boys from Brixton in an at-risk category have used our fusion of music and food to find ways to make money. Young unaccompanied refugee minors have found a supportive family, a safe space to begin processing their trauma and a connection to the healing side of nature.
You can find us out of the spotlight doing the work, without fanfare and without seeking credit - outside of mayoral consultations on a green recovery, outside of parliamentary discussions on how to reach the most vulnerable, outside of deals with private contractors. Our work speaks for itself.
We've been learning more recently about capacity building and social change. Building a low impact, natural eco-classroom - designed in alignment with nature and not against it - brought artists, designers and carpenters together to explore the use of materials like straw bales that would usually be burned at the end of the season.
Dana, Paulina and David worked together under the auspicious consultation and guidance of Barbara Jones, who set up a natural building company and is a pioneer in the industry and an inspiration for getting women involved in building.
Some of the young men from our award-winning Hip Hop programme joined us to learn and undertake accreditations in carpentry, painting, decorating and Health and Safety. They were an integral part of building the classroom in which they'll learn.
The certificates were facilitated through our collaboration with Volunteer it Yourself, another Community Interest Company that brought its essential skills, experience and to help us help young people gain skills.
Together we have explored eco-materials, danced gravel into the ground and worked out how to build a classroom that will support nature and not further destroy it.
In the fourteen years that we've been helping the most marginalised members of our community, we've never had to weather a storm like this one. Covid-19 has been a tornado that none of us predicted. The reality is that many projects and spaces like ours are under threat in this current climate.
We have shown we can be nimble, we can be quick and we can reach those in the community who need us the most. But we need more stability; we need more of the decision-making process in our hands and like everyone else who are helping others. We need more funds.
As a part of humanity we all have to reconsider what matters to us, what society we want to be a part of, and what community we want to build.
We are running a crowdfunder that is coming to an end. We haven't reached our target yet. We invite you to come and see the work that we do physically or virtually. If you believe in it, we invite you to invest.
We desperately need your help and investment to save May Project Gardens, helping us grow and become even more self-sufficient in the midst of this global pandemic.
Sarah Asante-Gregory is a writer and co-director at May Project Gardens. She tweets @may-gdn.
Join KMT Freedom Teacher, co-founder of May Project Gardens, along with Noga Levy-Rapoport, Salvador Gómez-Colón, and Lyla June as they share their views of what ‘good leadership’ and effective change-making entails in a time of environmental crisis. A free, online event in partnership with EcoResolution. Tuesday 24th November, 7-9pm, Zoom. Book here.