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Success at “Unity in the Community” Participatory Budgeting Event

On Saturday 6th March, Andrew and Owen from MutualGain  spent the day at ‘Unity in the Community‘ Participatory Budgeting (PB) event at the Greek Cypriot Association in Birmingham.  The events was the culmination of training and support provided by MutualGain to the Birmingham East neighbourhood police team, partners and active citizens.

Throughout this period a community steering group debated and agreed the  bidding criteria and worked with the police to develop, what would be an interesting and entertaining PB event. There were a total of  78 different bidders all looking to receive a portion from a grant pot of £60,000. In total, over £300,000 of bids were presented on the day with over 100 members of the community making the decision as to who would be successful.  The event was opened by the local area police commander, Chief Superintendent Kenny Bell and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, both of which committed to future engagement activities through the West Midlands Police Active Citizens programme.

At the conclusion of the event, a total of 15 community projects were supported with many of the others being directed towards organisations that may be able to support them to find funding.

Check out this great video of the event:

We caught up with one of the winners, Dibah Farooqui from The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham to find out what they thought about the event:

Firstly, congratulations for winning the greatest number of votes at the Birmingham “Unity in the Community” Participatory Budgeting event on Saturday! You must be over the moon?

Wow I didn’t realise I won the biggest number!

I actually arrived late as I was busy baking a ‘waste cake’ at home made from ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away. The cake was an orange and lemon cake and was passed around the audience as I gave my pitch. I made it with flour, oranges, oil and sugar. I wanted to demonstrate that rather than going out buying cakes it is very easy to make them from a few ingredients that most people usually have in, and you don’t need to use eggs!

It was also a demonstration to show the types of food we cook up in our cafes.

Can you tell us a bit about how you found the Participatory Budgeting event? Had you ever been to anything like it before?

I have pitched one time before at a similar type of event – that was very different as I got emotional about the subject ( I am a member of Kings Heath Action for Refugees and was talking about my time volunteering in the ‘jungle’ in Calais).

So yes whilst I have a little experience of pitching before nothing like to this size of audience.

Can you tell me a bit more about the Real Junk Food Project?

There is a lot of press about  TRJFP at the moment – it started by Adam Smith in Leeds 3 years ago, he was working as a chef in Australia and could not believe how much food was being wasted. He came back to UK and started the project in Leeds. They now have several cafes, a junk food supermarket and supply ‘fuel for schools’.


We do similar things here in Birmingham and started approximately 2.5 years ago. We run regular cafes at Ladywood Community Centre and Kings Heath Community Centre ( Birm City Council buildings ) where we serve up delicious three course meals to the community. We have all sorts of people eating with us from homeless to even the mayor of Birmingham, refugees to people with learning disabilities. Its a real mix and what is great is that I have noticed some people who have never spoken to someone wearing a hijab actually working together in the kitchen. So we break down racial stereotypes and other myths about ethnic minority’s.

However our main aim is not to exist. The supermarkets throw away an incredible amount of food. We should not exist, food banks should not exist. We collect 3 tonnes of food a week – perfectly edible food; food that the supermarkets should be reducing in price, giving away or not ordering too much of!

You won your full bid of £1,700 on the day. What will the money allow you to do?

The money will pay for a laptop so we can input data and accounts, kitchen equipment for Hodge Hill, compost bins (both for veg and cooked food) flyers and a banner as well as training for kitchen staff on food safety.

What do you think of West Midlands Police using methods like Participatory Budgeting to engage with the local community?

I think its really important as the police are better placed in the community than in the office. I have worked with the police myself as a social worker and there can be myths on both sides from the public about what they/ we do. Better communication and visibility is the key to engagement and so this event is very important.

Finally, we heard that you “won” a bit more than just money on the day. Can you tell us what happened with the leftover food from the event?

There were approximately 100 sandwiches left over, I knew that I had to find somewhere for them to be distributed that day. I put a shout out on Facebook and got in contact with Food Not Bombs – they are a grass roots organisation that distribute food to the homeless and they were able to come and collect the sandwiches to give out in the city centre the following day.


Andrew from MutualGain shares his reflections from the day: The Unity in the Community project actually began about six months ago with MutualGain training a group of people in the World Cafe engagement method.  Following a successful World Cafe, over 50 people volunteered their time to form a community steering group to help develop the PB programme.  This is by far the biggest steering group that I have worked with and their commitment to ensuring transparency and fairness is to be commended.  This resulted in an exciting and vibrant PB event with people using song, acrobatics, rap and short plays to deliver their pitch.  The feedback has been excellent with community members telling us how they learnt of support groups that they did not know existed, resulting in networks being extended across the area.  Even now, five days later, we are receiving comments about how much people enjoyed the event.

When done properly, PB can have such a positive impact on communities and can help build relationships with public services – this PB event was definitely done properly! Take a look at the smiles on the faces of those who were successful: