Group of Hackney residents use donut to invigorate their community

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Artist Rose Gibbs created Mountford Growing Community to “encourage civic participation”.
Photograph: Courtesy of Rose Gibbs

Hearing the term ‘donut economy’ one would forgive his mind for jumping at the cost of a box of sugary treats, or a vision of the police chief in The simpsons single-handedly keep Springfield’s bakery afloat.

But for a group of Hackney residents, it’s the foundation for a new way of doing things, a plan to reinvent and protect tight-knit communities that have been unraveled by the pandemic and the years of austerity that came before.

The donut in this case is actually a model developed by English economist Kate Raworth which takes its name from the diagram she uses to illustrate it.

The inner hole contains the 12 essentials of life – food, water, health, education, shelter, etc. – while outside the ring lie the planetary boundaries that must not be crossed if humanity is to survive – things like climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity losses and atmospheric and chemical pollution.

To reduce it, or rather fry it, the model invites people to judge the success of the economy by its ability to meet people’s needs without killing Earth.

The Donut Economics website describes it as a “mindset adapted to the context and challenges of the 21st century”.

Image: Donut Economics / Wikicommons

For Rose Gibbs, artist and founder of Mountford Growing Community, a group of socially minded gardeners formed around an estate in Dalston, the principles of Raworth’s theory fit well with the idea of ​​a new project.

After hearing from young people in the field lament the closure of youth clubs, Gibbs received the green light from council to rebuild a local community hall “that did not meet their needs.”

To put the necessary plans in place, the group is running a crowdfunder which recently received a huge boost when London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged £ 32,000. But he still has a bit of a way to go to reach his goal of £ 50,000 by May 11.

The concept, and this is where Raworth’s mindset comes in, is to have young people from Hackney who are not in education, employment, or training design and build the venue. , learning architectural skills along the way – all with sustainability and the environment at the forefront.

The resulting building, the group hopes, will provide the entire local community with a long-standing asset that will benefit their health and well-being, strengthen social cohesion and improve civic engagement.

While Raworth’s Donut offers a “guide to think about as the project unfolds,” Gibbs said the idea has been on his mind since 2013, when she stumbled upon a real-life example of the donut economy – years before Raworth was fully mapped out. his theory in a 2017 book.

Gibbs explained, “I went on artist placement up to Bradford and Leeds. There I met an incredibly inspiring man, Claude Hopper Hendrickson, who had, in response to the lack of diversity in the construction industry, built a street of 12 houses with a group of unemployed black men, learning the skills along the way so that by the end of the project, the men not only had a share of the house, but also a whole new set of skills.

“I was really impressed with his work, both with this project and with subsequent youth community projects he was involved in, and wrote about him to share his good practices.

“Ever since I learned about his project, I really wanted to do something similar, and find the right people and the right way to do a self-build like this.”

Gibbs created Mountford Growing Community to “support community cohesion, reduce social isolation, provide access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables, enable residents to have greater autonomy over their immediate environment, and encourage civic participation” .

It started with gardening, but has since evolved into an organization that allows locals to “start conversations with each other that might not otherwise take place.”

Mountford Community Hall. Photograph: Courtesy of Rose Gibbs

One of those conversations, Gibbs says, was with young people in the field, who told him that the closure of so many youth clubs over the past 10 years had denied them a space to meet and socialize, and that the community hall was not suitable. for purposes.

She added: “There is a fitness coach who lives on the estate and he had done an amazing job with the younger ones, giving them soccer training, but he was frustrated that he didn’t have access to that type of training. social. spaces he had growing up.

“So the impetus for the project and my wish to continue it really came from speaking with the young people who live on the estate, and a desire to do something about the lack of social spaces for young people.

Gibbs hired architect Sahra Hersi to “lead the way”.

Hersi is a graduate of the Royal College of Art whose practice explores shared spaces, the public domain, collaboration and community engagement.

Gibbs has known Hersi for many years and is “completely thrilled to have agreed to be a part of this project”.

“I think what she can do for the participants is to make transparent the otherwise obscure and intimidating process of becoming an architect. It will also be able to show all the career paths to which a training in architecture can lead, ”she explains.

“Just through planning this project, I learned a lot myself about the process of becoming an architect. While I realize that earning a BA and MA is time consuming and expensive, I had no idea how much it depends on financial support beyond the MA phase of travel and, if you’re lucky, good connections – which is why the architecture industry lacks so much diversity.

As to where the group will find young people for the project, Gibbs said, “I have spoken with Hackney Works about this project and they will help us recruit participants for the program. In the second phase, we will work with Hackney Apprentices.

“One of the barriers to accessing educational opportunities is of course the cost, not only the cost of some courses, but simply the cost of living, and so we took into account a small allowance so that at least we are able to cover the costs of travel and food.

“I hope that if we go beyond our crowdfunding target, we will be able to increase this amount and thus allow people who otherwise would not consider the program otherwise to participate.”

Gibbs says local residents are eager to shape their community as part of the construction project.
Photograph: Courtesy of Rose Gibbs

The pandemic interrupted community events on the estate. The annual meal was canceled and a long-standing children’s drawing club was suspended.

But Gibbs says people are eagerly awaiting the construction project “because it will provide a forum in which to come together and discuss what the community wants.”

“The consultation process, which will be led by the young people concerned, is at the heart of the project,” she says. “Consultation is supposed to be part of any good architectural practice, but in most cases it is done in the most superficial way. Architects often have a design in mind before the process even begins, and the consultation is just done to tick certain boxes.

“We are reversing that. The focus will be on consultation, creating a social space that will bring residents and the local community together to talk about what they would like.

“I think creating that kind of conversation space is an amazing skill. Listening, taking note of those who have difficulty expressing themselves and creating a space in which they are able to do so – making sure everyone is heard and feels comfortable being heard. .

“This is why I am so happy that Sahra is part of this project, because she has the experience and skills to create these kinds of spaces. I hope that after such a terrible year, this project will be something positive around which to bring the community together.

“We will be hosting a lot of events throughout. We hope to share some food and turn the whole process into something truly festive, with displays of the designs as they progress, and to make sure residents feel they can show up as well and talk to the group informally.

“It is often the informal occasions for conversation that are most important for people who feel connected to each other and for creating a sense of community well-being.”

Ultimately, the group’s resident graphic designer will produce a free template for other organizations to follow. And Gibbs says the borough’s community hall person on council has already expressed interest in using Mountford as a test case for future regeneration projects.

So with a little more fundraising push, it could be donuts all around.

To learn more about the Mountford Estate Eco-Community Hall project, or to make a donation, visit the group’s crowdfunding page at spacehive.com/eco-community-hall-self-build

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