May Project Gardens: Crowdfunding for real social investment

May Project Gardens – a community permaculture garden in Morden – works with urban communities, to address poverty, disempowerment and access to resources and influence. Now, they are trying to raise £25,000 so they can own their premises. Co-Director Mona Bani explains why.

Over the last 14 years, May Project Gardens has been supporting the most marginalised members of society, including young people of colour, unaccompanied refugee minors and those with mental health challenges. From our community permaculture garden, we work with people to grow food, run creative workshops and provide a space for those who face hardship to find comfort, solace and emotional support.

Through all these 14 years, this work has never felt more needed than in the last four months. But with coronavirus and an approaching recession, projects and spaces like ours are under threat. We desperately need your help and investment to save May Project Gardens and help us grow and become self-sufficient in the midst of this Global Pandemic – which is why we are Crowdfunding to own our own premises.

Sustaining a grassroots community project

Asking for money has never felt comfortable or come naturally for me. Most of the time, we can hide behind bid writing; an almost ‘anonymous’ exchange, handled very formally between you as a ‘service provider’ and the funder as an entity who exist for the purposes of funding and therefore is meant to be asked for money. But raising your funds purely from funders has its limits.

We can try to cover up the blatantness of asking for money by selling t-shirts, or tickets to events or anything that passes it off as an ‘exchange’. It’s acceptable in our capitalist system to get money for the offer of a product or service, rather than just asking and sharing. Nothing is given for free. So we all do sponsored runs; fundraising dinners; raffles; auctions etc, all to disguise the fact that essentially people without money, without access to resources, are asking those who have it, to redistribute it. It somehow makes the giver and receiver feel more comfortable, even if both parties know they don’t really need that branded t-shirt or food hamper that’s been exchanged for their cash, but it keeps the illusion going and prides in check.

Other fundraising options that have emerged in recent years, such as ‘social investment’, rely on your project producing a financial return on the money invested, as opposed to just a ‘social’ return. Although this isn’t impossible, it often goes against the core of what we’re doing and why. The moment you introduce finance into your work, it changes your priorities. So supporting young refugees, like we do for example, could indirectly have financial benefits because the more these young people learn English or overcome personal traumas, the more likely they are to get jobs and contribute to the economy. However, the moment you start to aim for that, your work becomes about that outcome, rather than focusing on their wellbeing and what they need. For those of us who believe in doing the work just because it’s the right thing to do and not for its outcomes, that’s an uncomfortable way to work.

Image: young refugees learning music
Young refugees learning music on May Project Gardens' award winning Hip Hop Garden programme.

Creating fundamental change

During COVID and then the BLM uprisings, we’ve had more volunteer offers, donations, social media followers and press interest than ever before. Whether it’s a shift in people’s priorities; a need to feel useful or be seen to be useful; be part of something; boredom; guilt or genuine realisations about the injustices in the world is still to be seen. But as a small project, we’re trying to receive and manage this, whilst also preparing ourselves for it to be short lived. We’re trying to work out how this current energy could actually be turned into something sustainable for us, regardless of what happens next in the world.

So with this Crowdfunder, we didn’t want to ask for just another few months of service delivery or something else finite, which would eventually run out and we’d have to come back and ask again. We wanted something that will lead to a fundamental change for us: we want to own our premises.

By premises I mean the actual community garden, which has been there for those who need it, for free, offering respite, food, connection and education for 14 years. And yet, despite the exemplar of local resilience and sustainability it’s become, we don’t actually own it. And as the world changes around us; as the public sector shrinks and the third sector reaches capacity, and we go through unprecedented pandemics, it becomes more and more likely that one day we won’t have access to this site. So we’re hoping that all these people who’ve discovered us and want to help, everyone who has benefited from this space and wants to benefit in future, will help us to collectively own something, as a community of people, who sit somewhat on the margins together, thriving for economic autonomy. We want to do more than just survive; we want to live and grow. And by asking for this now, we hope it’ll put us in the position to ask less in future.

We’re hoping for real social investment: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/growmpg

Image: painting a slogan
Mona and artist Ange Mukeza painting the May Project Gardens slogan 'Come We Grow' at a community event.

Donate to the Crowdfunder now at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/growmpg

If you have any questions about their work or want to support beyond the Crowdfunder, email team@mayproject.org

May Project Gardens' response to COVID19 on BBC London News

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