May Project Gardens: Connecting urban communities to nature

May Project Gardens is an award-winning community interest company in South London connecting urban communities to nature and to each other in an otherwise consumerist society.

Co-director Mona Bani talks about the need for human connections when aiming for social change.

How did May Project Gardens start?

Our community garden in Morden was set up by our co-founder, Ian Solomon Kawall, at the back of his mother May’s council house, after her passing in 2006. It was developed into a permaculture community garden by local residents using recycled materials, donations and goodwill, and has offered free public open days for over a decade.

Over the years, we’ve developed various free programmes to suit diverse needs. Our youth programme Hip Hop Garden won the 2015 Team London award for innovative work with young people and currently receives funding to support refugees and asylum seekers.

What is the project aiming to do?

Our primary purpose has been to work with urban communities, to address poverty, disempowerment and access to resources and influence. People who face hardship can find a place for comfort, solace and emotional support. They can also take away practical tips on, for example, how growing food can reduce their costs or improve their health, which in turn ripples and impacts society around them.

Who do you work with?

Naturally, a lot of our work resonates with those considered on the ‘margins’ of society – those with fewer resources, who face greater hardships.

Finding ways to be resourceful and building strength in numbers is vital for those whose power and influence is limited. Schools, councils or other organisations will come to us because they feel we reach people they can’t or want to address the lack of ‘diversity’ in the mainstream environmental movement.

However, in terms of ‘educating’ people on a greener or less consumerist way of life; questioning spending choices or what our personal impact on the planet is, these are not the people who need the most ‘enlightenment’. When your resources are limited, you already know how to be resourceful.

Image:ian may project gardens london beyond consumerism
May Project Gardens was co-founded by Ian Solomon Kawall (centre).

You don’t have the luxury to contemplate where to spend your money and whether to live a consumerist life or not. Being preached at by those with greater consumer power is ineffective and patronising. But interestingly, over the past 12 years, we’ve found that those who can make these choices also regularly seek out the project, maybe from the opposite starting point, but ultimately for the same goals.

Dozens of people have come to us at a crossroads in their lives, often disillusioned with a corporate and materialistic life and looking for something with deeper meaning. They don’t always know what this looks like, but they’re drawn to these universal themes; nature, food and community. It seems to signify a sense of purity for them. It’s like they feel they need to cleanse something before they can move forward. A spiritual detox of sorts.

It sounds like making connections between people is key to what you’re doing

Yes, our activities are definitely vehicles to connect people from all backgrounds and we find this human connection and personal transformation is vital for us in influencing wider social change. 

For people to question or resist very powerful forces around them, telling them they must buy the new iPhone or have a perfect Instagram account, they need something equally strong to pull them the other way. The decision needs to come from an emotional, not rational place and that’s where we exist; a space where people give according to their means and receive according to their needs.

WHAT THEY OFFER:

  • Free garden open days, Sundays 12- 4 pm, 158 Middleton Road, Morden.
     
  • Party at Cafe Cairo, Clapham first Saturday of every month 6pm - 1am with capoeira, DJs, gong bath, astrology, vegan pizzas and cultural features like film screenings.
     
  • Free family education festival during school holidays, Mitcham Library.
     
  • Workshops for schools, youth centres, charities, businesses and festivals, exploring environmentalism, veganism, health, diversity, inclusivity and community engagement through creativity, music and creating safe spaces.

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