The Future Of Mummy’s Gin Fund

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MGF

The future of Mummy’s Gin Fund; that’s a pretty dramatic title for a blog post but I guess that’s kind of the point because it’s a pretty dramatic change that’s happening.

mgf cakesI set up the MGF Facebook group in April 2014, two weeks after the birth of my third baby. It was designed as a place for me, a few friends and friends-of-friends to buy and sell our outgrown baby things. It was pretty selfish really, I’d just had a baby boy after two girls and I wanted to flog their stuff and buy cute new boy things without the cost of eBay postage. Within a few weeks we were up to 100 members and I thought I’d hit the big time. I was filling my house with local people’s baby flotsam and jetsam, meeting my sleep-deprived peers, clearing out my own weight in girl’s stuff and getting out of the house to pick stuff up from neighbours I hadn’t met yet. It was brilliant.

And then it grew. Exponentially, it grew and grew like a huge and uncontrollable rainbow; MGF spread its shiny wings across SE London and beyond. Suddenly, the group was 1000, then 2000, then 10,000 and still it grew. Every day brought literally hundreds of like-minded women to the ‘member request’ list. The men of south east London were sent out on a daily pilgrimage to collect breast-pumps, baby-grows and bikes. Slowly, they started to join us in our group-hug revolution and our family of Gin Funders grew even more. Names started appearing in the group that I didn’t recognise and our Gin Territory spread wider. It didn’t dilute Gin Fund though, it made us stronger. The support network grew, friendships extended beyond the normal boundaries of playground or workplace and we all discovered lovely people in places we hadn’t been to before. Even at 30,000 members, everyone in the group is only 3 degrees of separation from each other. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Gin Funder that I haven’t been able to find a common link with.

I organised a party to celebrate our first 1000 members where we took over part of the Baring Hall Hotel pub in Grove Park. I remember telling the landlord that I wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up and I gathered as many of my friends as possible so I wouldn’t have to sit in the pub by myself – looking like a lemon without any Gin. My carload turned up at the pub and I braced myself for an amazing ‘party for four’. But they came. Women turned up. And they carried on turning up until we couldn’t actually fit in the room that I’d reserved and we spilled out into the rest of the pub. Women I didn’t know, I’d never met. Women who owed me no favours, who turned up because they wanted to. They came alone and in pairs and groups and within about 23 seconds the room was full of laughter and chat as we discovered people we’d lived 3 doors down from but never spoken to. That’s when Gin Fund made the seismic shift from ‘buying and selling group’ to ‘community’. I floated out of the party, high on the knowledge that something special was happening and that I was a part of it.

Me capeFrom that point, things have gone from strength to strength; there have been other parties (Elsa and Anna drawing the raffle at our Christmas party has to be a career highlight for me), picnics, workshops and fundraisers. MGF has been to Lewisham People’s Day and Manor House Garden Festival. We’ve had stalls all over the place and have been partners in a Christmas Fair. We have raised over £2000 for The Conservatoire’s excellent family garden and around the same amount for Bliss. I ran 18 events in 30 days for #knowvember whilst 8 months pregnant! We have campaigned for changes in the local area, championed the amazing things that SE London has to offer our families and educated and empowered parents through our workshops.

On an individual level, the Power Of Gin Fund has ensured that #nomumleftbehind is a tangible, practical way of life. This mantra has been brought to life by so many of our wonderful members. Without any ulterior motives, Gin Funders have leapt to the support of total strangers; offering furniture to homeless families, money to good causes, lifts to people in need, advice to overwhelmed peers, information to confused neighbours and baby equipment to mums with nothing. We have celebrated each other’s successes, cheerled those who have needed our support and held the hands of our members through some terrible times. We have taken crying strangers off the bus and into our homes, stitched up injured children, cleaned each other’s houses and provided parties for terminally ill children. MGF has touched every corner of our territory and I’m incredibly proud of every tiny difference we have made.

MGF has become a short-cut to genuine community: a place where everyone is welcome and all are equal.

SM workshopIt was around November 2015 that it became obvious that MGF was becoming bigger and stronger than Facebook alone. There were daily strands full of fantastic information and advice and they were getting lost and repeated. This wealth of material was a gold mine for local parents but there was no way of keeping it. Hence, the seed of an MGF website was born. The cost of what I wanted ran into tens of thousands and I was pretty much living hand to mouth on a part time wage and 3 lots of childcare bills. So, I practiced what I preached and asked the MGF community for help. I ran a raffle, stuffed to the rafters with amazing prizes donated by MGF businesses, and raised around £820. Armed with about 1/10 of the money I needed, I knocked on the door of Tim and Sarah Lindsay – local friends, parents and business owners – and asked for advice on how to basically re-create eBay, Mumsnet and Time Out on a shoe-string. Rather than laugh in my face, they incredibly generously volunteered to turn my £820 into a £10,000 website. Because of them, www.mummysginfund.co.uk was born and MGF took a tentative step into the big wide world. Tim helped with the mind-blowing technical stuff and Sarah did all the fabulous design; the funky, retro look of MGF is all her.

Suddenly, I was not only a mother-of-3 and sign language interpreter, I was also running a website. I sat up until 3am every single night for months and months, collating information from the Facebook group, writing thousands of words about the local area, photographing my dinner for the recipe section, reading undecipherable books about web design and living as close to a heart attack as I’ve ever been. After around 6 months I was ready to ask for help and was rewarded with a steady stream of MGF volunteers. Sitting up through the night with me, proofreading, copy editing and rubbing my back whilst I rocked in the corner, these women in shining armour multi-tasked the website into existence. Launch day saw the website crash five times due to the sheer weight of traffic and we ended up spending over £1000 an hour after launch on increased storage (or something – it was to make it go faster and stop crashing).

MGF bagSo, by now I had launched Twitter and a Facebook page (and have recently added Instagram) and was running everything pretty much single handed. I had to go back to full time work to pay for all the MGF expenses so I was working 30 hours a week in my proper job, raising 3 kids and working an extra 30 hours a week for free on the website. And then I was pregnant too. Every penny of my savings was used up; something needed to change or I was going to have a heart attack and/or a divorce. I could hardly afford food and was too tired to eat anyway. I needed to monetise the website or it would crash and burn, taking me with it. This is the wonderful moment that the businesses who had benefited from all my hours and hours and hours of work in the group stepped up. Slowly, they signed up to register as a Recommended Business and I started to make a few hundred pounds a month. Every penny was reinvested in the website and MGF and I was able to convince a credit card company to lend me the money to buy some bags that I could sell to pay for the website hosting fees. After about 6 months, I launched the blog and MGF members were given a platform to share their many voices. We’ve shared incredible stories of loss, victories, adventures and relationships. The blog has grown from strength to strength and I now ring-lead a gang of over 150 writers: the #MGFBlogSquad.

BLW workshopRight now, MGF has a social media reach of over 350,000 people per month yet we are still able to shop locally, share locally and support locally. There will never be a time when MGF is too big for our slippers. Whilst the area of our group hug has grown, our arms have stretched to reach round it and we will always be about local community cohesion and enrichment. This would be absolutely impossible without the incredible group of admins who give up their time to voluntarily protect the MGF Facebook group from imploding. Without their tireless – and often thankless – work, 30,000 people all posting whatever and whenever they wanted would cause the very quick death of MGF. We should all be incredibly grateful to them as they do lots of the work for none of the credit.

So, what about the future. What’s the point of this blog?

FishfingersOn a personal level, I have absolutely loved the roller-coaster ride that this tiny seed of an idea has given me. My head is buzzing with new and exciting ways to grow MGF and the support we can provide. I continue to volunteer 30 hours per week for MGF, despite the recent birth of Gin Baby number 4. The website is going from strength to strength and we are attracting more and more business support. However the time, effort and money involved in MGF is unsustainable. Without changes, it will implode.

The exciting news for me is that my family and I have made the slightly terrifying but very thrilling decision to move out of London, to Devon. It’s been a long time coming; despite being from Loughborough, my entire family are from Devon and I have a big gang of us still down there. I love the open spaces, fresh air, stunning views and outdoor life. I have been visiting Devon every year for 40 years (which I’m not sure is technically possible given that I’m only 25) and it is in my blood – both literally and metaphorically. We are moving down on August the 1st, to a new house, new school and new community. I’m going from the virtual village of MGF to an actual Devonshire village with a village green, pub, post office and sea views. I cannot wait.

Trevor and SimonBut, what does this mean for MGF? Panic not, it actually means that MGF will be bigger, better and stronger. I am taking the equity from my London home and stepping away from paid work. My husband has also left his job and we will be spending our days surfing, sailing, hanging out on the beach with our kids and generally having an amazing time. Oh, and he’ll spend a few months working with me on MGF. Without the pressure of near bankruptcy, we can focus on improving the website, adding functionality, responding to emails and helping MGF become stronger and more sustainable. I will be running more of our popular workshops, sharing more information through Facebook Lives and writing more blogs. The strength of MGF is in our community and we will be investing our time and money to FINALLY start the community work that I have so desperately wanted to do for the last 4 years. My dream is for MGF to make a positive impact on the lives of families in SE London.

HustingsThe first step is the launch of The Gin Fund, a pot of money that we will use to help lovely local people make lovely local things happen. The freedom of living in Devon will give me the time, space and money to really invest in MGF. At the moment, I am clinging on by my fingernails and both MGF and I are in real danger of collapse. I am so excited to see what I can achieve without trying to do everything between the hours of 10pm and 3am (before then feeding Baby Gin again and finally sleeping from 3.30am-6am). With more time and breathing space, the MGF website will go from strength to strength as the place to find local recommended businesses, days out and brilliant blogs. I have to turn down so many amazing opportunities to work with others to improve the SE London community because I cannot afford the time or money to take on anything else. By having the opportunity to make more money for MGF, it means more opportunities to help local parents and I cannot wait.

Buddy benchI have worked a minimum of 30 hours a week, for free, on MGF for over four years. I am incredibly proud of what I have created and how we have all come together to water the tiny seed I planted. Everything that has happened is a credit to the power of collaboration, friendship, kindness and perseverance. Lives have genuinely been changed as a result of the group force of Gin Fund and I thank every one of you for making it happen.

This isn’t the end of MGF, far from it. It’s the start of the next phase. You will continue to say hi to each other in the park and drop supplies off at stranger’s houses because their child is sick and they can’t leave the house. Clothes and toys will continue to be sold, recommendations will still be asked for and plenty more advice and support will be given. Gin Fund has always been bigger than just me and I cannot thank all those people who have helped me along the way enough.

And, as for me, I’ll still be here. You can take the girl out of Gin Fund territory, but you’ll never take Gin Fund out of the girl.

If you would like to come and say goodbye, I will be upstairs in the Crown Tavern, on Burnt Ash Hill on Sunday 30th July from 1-4pm. Everyone is welcome. I’d love to see as many as possible. Pop in for 5 minutes or stay all day. Bring your partners and children and raise a Gin to the future.

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Founder of MGF, Helen is a mum of four who spends way too much time on the interweb and not enough time in bed. She loves wearing her dressing gown, car boot sales and watching TV programmes featuring food. Her specialist subjects include 'how to overfill your car boot' and 'how to avoid dusting'. Follow her at Twitter: @Ginfund, Facebook: @MGFund, Instagram: @mummysginfund and online: www.mummysginfund.co.uk.