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.


Insta: may_gdn



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Vish ShvaOne

Vish ShvaOne

Vish is an Emcee, edu­ca­tion devel­op­ment lead­er at the Hip Hip His­tor­i­an Soci­ety and recently, co-dir­ect­or of Every Per­son is Cap­able. He works on Hip Hop com­munity mat­ters and lives to uplift people.

About Vish ShvaOne

Vish ShvaOne
Vish is an Emcee, education development leader at the Hip Hip Historian Society and recently, co-director of Every Person is Capable. He works on Hip Hop community matters and lives to uplift people.