Jo here, I'm one of the directors of MUD and I'm currently leading on our Strong Roots programme until lovely Lulu is back from her adventures in South America.
Although I'm obviously very jealous, I'm pretty chuffed that I get to run the Strong Roots programme for a couple of months because it's so so rewarding, the sessions really do fill my soul.
You may have heard about the Strong Roots programme through our crowdfunder, which we launched in Autumn last year.
I thought it would be nice to share a bit of history about the project and how it came to be.
By 2021 Myself, Sam and Mike (the other two directors) had been running volunteer days and building the site at Platt Fields Park for around 3/4 years around our full time jobs. In 2020 we in fact quit said jobs just before lockdown, so things really amped up after that.
We all really enjoyed chatting to local people who would share recipes with us and buy produce we had grown on site.
In 2019, a large family enjoying a BBQ on the park noticed we were growing summer purslane, a tangy succulent like green plant, and asked if they could buy some as they had never seen it for sale in this country before, we got chatting and it turned out they were Kurdish. They shared recipes with us and we asked what else we could grow for them. They continued to buy the purslane each week until the end of the season.
As we continued to chat to locals we gathered ideas about what vegetables and herbs to grow for their cultures and the different ways to eat them. We found out that a common weed Fat Hen or Giant Goosefoot is a commonly used ingredient in Pakistani cooking. How to cook cardoon leaves from from some Moroccan ladies, and that everyone has a different opinion on when to know its the best time to harvest corn!
We wanted to share the space with all these people from different cultures and so when we found a small grant to run a community cohesion project we knew it was the right time to go for it. Iman, who has been a paid member of staff and volunteer for nearly 4 years now, had just started volunteering at the garden. Iman is Kurdish and speaks Farsi and Persian, helped me recruit people from the community to come to the sessions. This was an 8 week programme and about 5-10 people came to each session. Some people we met still come to visit the garden to this day. Near Neighbours funded us for a second year and the project continued to grow.
After the success of the first and second programme we went for further funding from the National Lottery Awards for All fund. We ran a longer, 16 programme and hired Nerissa and Lulu from our volunteer pool to run it. We learnt a lot on this programme and developed the format and activities to make the best experience possible for the attendees.
By the end of the 16 weeks we were regularly getting 30-40 people attending the sessions every week. Feeding everyone, cooking together, chatting, gardening, learning English, sharing stories and trying to help where we could. We all learnt about the importance of having a safe space in the city for vulnerable people and people new to the area. Having a space to relax and eat healthy, culturally appropriate food, to laugh and dance and be ourselves.
I personally learnt so much about different cultures, growing techniques and recipes, I feel so lucky to have spent time on this project.
Despite amazing feedback and attendance, we were unsuccessful with 2 grant applications to continue the project. This is what really pushed us to run the crowdfunder. It costs a lot of money to run a year long programme with food and travel expenses plus all the outreach and overheads so we were absolutely blown away when we managed to raise over £55k (of which £25k was match funded by Save Our Wild Isles and Aviva Community Fund).
Most of this money will go towards running the programme for 41 weeks. The rest (around £15k) will be spent on improving site infrastructure (stuffs falling apart) and building a permanent warm shelter for everyone to use and hopefully meaning we are less impacted by the seasons! (more on that in another episode).
Anyway, here we are today. Next week will be the first session of the year on the 25th Jan.
Who's welcome? Everyone! The sessions are for anyone who wants to come along and hang out.
We have split the day into two and have 20 spaces (10 per session) a day allocated to people who need access to travel expenses (max £5 a day to be claimed back at the start of the session with a receipt).
Session 1 starts at 11am and finishes after lunch at 2pm
Session 2 starts with lunch at 1pm and finishes at 4pm
Lunch is from 1pm-2pm
We ask people only stay for one session to allow the most amount of people to benefit from the programme.
Additionally, we're looking for volunteers who are interested in running a session with a small group, this can be gardening, arts and crafts etc. If you are interested please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are some posters in a few languages, if there's a language you want that you dont see, please let me know.
Please share with anyone you think may be able to attend or help out.