Give us a Brief Introduction of May Project Gardens and the work it does…
May Project Gardens was founded in 2007 by Randy Mayers and myself, Ian Solomon-Kawall. I spent my youth as a carer for my mum who suffered from mental illness. When she died, I wanted to do something positive in her memory and set an example for others facing similar social and economic hardships.
I met Randy, when he’d just moved from Gambia who had an incredible permaculture expertise but was missing a connection to nature in the city. Together we transformed the garden at my mum’s council house into the community garden that is at the heart of MPG today.
Now we work with urban communities to weed out poverty and disempowerment as well as providing access to resources for the public and influencing society. We provide practical and collective solutions for people to live sustainably and disengage with power structures that doesn’t serve them. We hive for an alternative system and lifestyle based on nature, community, biodiversity and creativity. We’ve remained independent, informal and egalitarian in our values and how we work with people and interact as a team in spite of becoming a registered Community Interest Company.
Our open days are on 12–4PM on Sundays. We are looking for ways to flourish and grow as the need and capacity to deliver outreach work has increased. We are looking at alternative sources of funding, or more resources such as volunteers, people with expertise in business investment, avenues of unrestricted funding, corporate partnerships and other charitable sources of income.
Who are the members of your team?
Our roles within the organisation are not compartmentalised, May Project Gardens focuses on being people centric. We try to look at people’s skills and strengths. I am KMT one of the directors, and one of my strengths is using Hip Hop, using creativity, providing practical and affordable solutions to environmental or wellbeing issues and public engagement. I struggle in the administrative stuff, the bureaucratic writing, which is what Mona and Zaira do very well. We keep growing as a team and sometimes take up mixed roles.
Zaira Rasool, formally a director for 4 years is now a non-executive director with MPG. She provides expertise and support with youth engagement, administration and funding. She joined MPG when she was disillusioned with the mainstream charity sector and growing forward, used her management skills to help builder a stronger root system for us. Her input increased our recognition in innovation and alternative education, leading to winning the 2015 Mayor of London’s ‘Greening and Cleaning award’ for our work with young people.
Mona Bani joined as our third director in 2016. She experienced frontline activism as the child of political refugees and went on to work in social policy. She has used these experiences to help grassroots projects like MPG to become more influential and recognised. She supports our project delivery and runs Untelevised TV alongside us, as well as running her own radio show showcasing local artists. Mona does so much for MPG not really seen by the public.
We also have Fisayo; the manager of Untelevised TV, Helen; Programme Support and Theodora on Operations Support, Laurel; Project Coördinator and Emily our accountant. DJ Chico is one of the resident DJ’s for Come We Grow, and Maat is our youngest Emcee. There are many other contributors who work with us too, including a tantalising range of musical and cultural geniuses.
Tell us more about KMT please…
I’m a fan of Hip Hop first and foremost. I have been practicing Hip Hop as a medium for social change and social cohesion. That has been my focal point over the years. More recently it’s been Hip Hop Education; check Hip Hop Ed out. I have been in the Hip Hop Elements as a supporter, and organising events, one such being as the first person to organise and run a cypher event in 2009. I was one of the first DJ’s to play a set of only UK Hip Hop music and one of the first people to create a Freestyle theatre event; ‘Who’s Rhyme Is It?’. I took these freestyle artists on tour with Nu MC’s.
Throughout the years, I have worked with artists such as Dead Prez, KRS-One, and Nas. Although Hip Hop is great for social cohesion, I find that it still bases itself on a capitalist model, on competition. Although it came from the ghetto, from the margins of society and has become mainstream, its remains an American-centred model and is oppressing the grass roots. As an example of that, although it started in the US, very few grass roots artists represent Hip Hop globally. There is a real opportunity for Hip Hop to become more bio-diversified.
At the same time I felt as though I was not getting good success with my Hip Hop events, Randy started to come the Garden, and that’s when it opened my eye up to a whole different possibility, and actually I stepped back. One of the things I was not able to do with Hip Hop was look inwards; it’s been mostly externalisation. With the Green Movement and the presence of MPG, it has been much more about looking inwards at wellness, wellbeing and mental health. If we look at the current issues in Hip Hop Kulture with some the artists that have passed away recently, fundamentally it has been about health. For example, Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest passed away from diabetes. No one talks about the casualties in Hip Hop, like the misogyny of women and the incarceration culture that exists within the music industry machine that means many black people get disproportionately imprisoned. Dealing with these concerns inspired me to create a format which was much more holistic through MPG.
What projects do you have going on at the moment?
We offer three main programmes, or elements. The first main one is Hip Hop Garden. The second is Festival of Learning; our community event and Come We Grow; where we showcase environmentally aware artists and embark with holistic activities. Mona has also launched untelevised TV, a partnership with May Project Gardens and Philanthropy.
The Hip Hop Garden program is funded by Choose Love Help Refugees and Culture Seeds. It has five key modules:
Food Growing and Cooking: This explores healthy diets, plant based food and growing, the differing qualities of soils, fasting. It connects participants with the land, using notions from studies showing the importance of green spaces.
Event Management, Come We Grow: This adds life skills for the people taking part. It provides complimentary skills not expressed in the education curriculum, such as how to organise people and work as a team to deliver an activity or show.
Wellbeing: We investigate how to get people into a healthy state of being, including looking at isolation, general wellbeing, mental health, yoga, meditation, capoeira and breath work. This supports reducing the trauma that refugees face.
Enterprise and Employability: We know Hip Hop started from the grass roots. We bring that energy into Hip Hop Garden. We recognise that there is a shrinking labour force in society, where if refugees can’t be employed, we support them to become entrepreneurial. We get participants to experience plumbing, carpentry, designing water irrigation systems and how to run a pop up café; cooking food and making money, as well as selling produce grown on vegetable beds.
Green Structures, Hip Hop and Social Movement: Here we partake in Hip Hop’s core the elements, the history of Hip Hop, live performance skills and techniques. This produces confidence healing for distresses and more importantly for refugees to learn language through lyric writing express their emotions.
Festival Of Learning- we create and provide an indoor festival for parents and young children, providing a variation of facilities for fun and learning. That takes place for two days within the summer holidays. We need more funders so we can do for more days, offering a garden based education that families can participate in during the school holidays.
Come We Grow- the first Saturday of the month at Café Cairo in Clapham. It is a mini festival celebrating many of MPG’s contents with the addition of book launches, tarot, film releases, and different activities taking place. We showcase live music from a wide variety of Green styled artists and live music through Chico and myself DJ’ing. It also has a variety of other holistic workshops like gong therapy, capoeira martial art and vegan food to eat.
What services can you offer for anyone interested?
We offer Hip Hop Garden, we can programme more Hip Hop Ed conversations, and provide educational workshops and training for corporates on the site. We have recently been working with lush. We provide: team away days to offer people a way back into the natural environment, talks on permaculture and Hip Hop and environmental lectures. I also personally offer DJ’in’, and solution based consultancy work centred on using human capital and culture for social change. All of this may be so important post Brexit, offering the possibility of re-engaging people that have never been engaged in this capacity before. Employability for them may have been overlooked. By looking at how we can use the methodology of consultancy and businesses, we can add a biodiversity element and provide more economical, but more green based resilience in the financial sector. MPG has open days every Sunday from 12–4PM, where you can come and volunteer, plants and grow with us.
Do you have any natural tips for us, organic pointers?
Lately there has stemmed a massive interest in Extinction Rebellion and other similar environmental and vegan groups. I really like this saying- “let the silent sage move about in the village as the bee goes about taking honey from the flower without harming colour or fragrance” — Dhammapada. I love that because it means that working with nature, you can do the work in a much more kind of rootical way, like the roots of Hip Hop, what we are talking about it is the root system. Many people out there right now haven’t done the work within themselves but they expect success. One of the things that is really important is utilising a different pace and working environment, like you know, we work in a capitalist society yet everyone is trying to get on and have unity. Well those things are at odds, so how do we create spaces were people can actually be more at peace, be more mindful; be more in-tune with nature? This means there is more of a balance. I’m not trying to knock anyone who lives in the city, we live here because there is diversity, there is different things happening. One of the things that we are seeing is the affects of isolation, poor diets, poor transportation, lack of resources, you know, climate change. We see all because our lifestyles are very unsustainable, nahmean? We are one of the 75% of people on Earth that have a roof over their heads, that have food; we’re actually wealthy. But there is so much inequality. Why does that exist in society? We need to look at and connect with nature as a model for society as a whole. Nothing is wasted in nature.
What does the future have in store for May Project Gardens and Hip Hop?
The future for MPG- we’re going to move in a business direction. There is a nice saying; ‘when you put strong roots down, don’t be afraid of the wind’. I really like that saying. Because we have put down some really strong roots and good foundations, now we need to harvest, and we need to build capacity to bring on people that are more experienced in the corporate and business world that can help us get sponsorship and funding that is non restrictive.
My goal is to purchase the house for MPG. My house is a council house, and because the council didn’t have many resources, I was like, let me use this home to enable me to demonstrate what I want to do. I’m dyslexic, so I don’t have that skill that enables me to write funding applications and stuff like that. My thing is always about experiential learning. That is how I move forward. By doing it, by giving examples of something that I have done before. We reached a capacity where people want more from MPG, and rightly so they want more. We need staff that can do more of the administration stuff and more kinda back end stuff that people don’t really see, the roots stuff. Once we’re done with that we can provide more services of the respective programs we run. Hip Hop Garden we definitely want to expand that.
For Hip Hop, I want to continue my path of being a pioneer in the UK of bringing Hip Hop into the wellness environment. When I first started doing that, people were laughing at me, saying “hahaha you’re gonna make songs about food”, and now I see artists making songs about food. I pioneered that in the UK, so I want to grow to take that to across the UK and globally, and be the number one person for it, as well as for being internationally recognised for sustainability and wellbeing. It has really changed people’s lives for the better, and I’ve helped that together with everyone at MPG.
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