Our story so far
Since 2017, we've been bringing refugees, asylum seekers and local residents together in East London to create connections through food and storytelling. The work we do builds community and boosts self-confidence and skills. It also tells a different story about migration to the one which we often see in the headlines.
We've been running weekly workshops for four years, have welcomed more than 400 guests to our supper clubs, run street food & stories pop-ups, plus a story cafe project with Queen Mary University. In 2019, we published More Than a Recipe Book – a book of global recipes and migration stories – as part of the first London Borough of Culture. But Covid-19 has made our work much more difficult.
The challenges of the pandemic
We haven’t been able to host public events for a year, or offer opportunities for refugee chefs to showcase their talents. But we're really proud to have carried on holding weekly storytelling and poetry workshops throughout – mostly online. We created new work for Refugee Week and the virtual Walthamstow Garden Party, and made a series of cookery videos featuring recipes from our book. Plus, we've just completed a partnership project with Phosphoros Theatre, reflecting on what it means to wait.
It's been more important than ever that we've stayed connected, to reduce isolation and create spaces of welcome in these challenging times:
"I feel more connected – even though I’m not with you physically. There is new vocabulary that I’m learning. I improved my English. Especially in this lockdown, I have something to do."
"It makes me more confident. I learn different skills. It makes me not feel lonely."
"In workshops we play silly games and it makes me smile, so I don’t feel isolated. I have something to look forward to. No matter what, I’m happy to join."
Many of the refugees and asylum seekers we work with were already marginalised prior to Covid-19. Some live in insecure or overcrowded accommodation, some were homeless and others have no recourse to public funds. Their isolation was exacerbated by the pandemic, so the need for support grew just as many face-to-face services were closed.
At the same time, London has seen significant numbers of newly-arrived asylum seekers living in hotels and hostels, due to delays in the asylum process as a result of lockdown. This means there are hundreds of asylum seekers, often in substandard accommodation, who are reporting serious issues with mental and physical health. We're working in partnership with other charities to reach these people.
Building for the future
It's been much harder to generate income in the past 12 months – with no ticketed supper clubs or pop-up food stalls – which limits our ability to continue our activities. However, we’re delighted to have recently been awarded funding from Arts Council England to produce an anthology of refugee writing. And we’ve also been fortunate to acquire space on a local allotment which will provide opportunities for us come together through gardening to improve wellbeing when lockdown is over.
But in order to make the most of these opportunities and reach more participants, we need your help. We know the work we do has a really positive impact, but we need to raise funds to pay for project management, outreach, workshop leaders and logistical support for our participants (including food, travel and phone credit).
If we hit our target we will be able to
- Continue providing weekly storytelling and poetry workshops
- Expand these workshops to include some of the newly arrived asylum seekers living in precarious accommodation, to encourage interaction, build a sense of community, improve English skills and boost confidence
- Take those involved in our creative writing project into local secondary schools to encourage creativity and increase knowledge about migration
- Offer new wellbeing check-ins or virtual coffee mornings to ensure a continued sense of community and offer ongoing support
- Develop a peer mentoring project, so that those who have been in the UK for longer can support those who are just arriving
- Bring small groups together (when restrictions are lifted) at our newly-acquired allotment space in Waltham Forest, to encourage wellbeing and create a sense of community through gardening
- Create new opportunities for refugee chefs to refine their skills and cook at events
Your donation will help us continue our work, reach more people and build a more inclusive community, as we create spaces to share our stories.
"The important thing with a story is that it connects, it humanises. There’s enormous power in human stories." Jude, volunteer