Recipes rebuilding lives
From a blog by Migrateful
Jess Thompson set up Migrateful charity in 2017. The organisation helps London-based refugees get on their feet through training them as chefs. They then teach classes on how to cook the cuisines of their home nations.
Take the story of Majeda who has now gone on to set up her own business. When she first arrived in the UK from Syria she didn’t have the right to work. Jess says, “Teaching the cookery classes really helped her to meet people in this country and get work experience. Once she had the right to work we were able to pay her.” Now Majeda is an activist and runs her own supper clubs to help those left behind in Damascus. Jess says: “Sometimes you just need your first job in the UK.”
The idea for a food-based integration project came to Jess after spending a couple of years working on the front line in refugee camps in Morocco and Dunkirk with multiple Spanish charities. Eventually Jess was looking for a way to support refugees arriving in the UK, so in 2016 Jess enrolled on a year-long course called The Year Here Fellowship (see previous blog here), “The idea was to pilot different business ideas while working with the group you want to help on the front line.”
As part of this, Jess set up a skill exchange project with a group of women refugees “to help them feel more empowered and meet people through thinking about what skills they could share in the community”. Jess was teaching English to the group as her skill offering and one week she suggested they bring in a recipe from their home. “They were really passionate telling me about their favourite dish,” Jess says. “That was the moment I thought this is a skill that they all have, most of them were unemployed because of language barriers and because their qualifications don’t count in the UK. It was a way to get them into work.”
What started as a pilot in her home, has now developed into a fully-fledged charity that has so far facilitated over 200 cookery classes and reached some 2000 participants. With 16 chefs from all corners of the globe, from Eritrea to the Philippines to Iran and Cuba, Jess wants Migrateful to provide a solution for the isolation refugees can often face upon arriving in the UK: “Migrateful helps them to feel really celebrated and welcomed in this country and helps them to meet people, practice their English and gain work experience so they can go on to get other jobs.”
It’s the weekly chef training classes that help build the community amongst the refugees that Migrateful work with. Jess explains that even those who have been with the charity from the beginning still attend these weekly meet-ups. At these sessions they practice teaching so they can go on to run the evening classes which are hosted in cafes or can be requested privately for businesses or groups of friends.
Jess does note that often the people who book onto Migrateful’s classes are already sympathetic to the refugees’ cause which is why they are looking to expand out of the capital and to offer classes free of charge in areas where there’s a greater need for integration. In fact, it’s the classes arranged by companies for their employees where Jess sees the most impact: “You get a lot of people attending the classes who wouldn’t choose it for themselves. Then you’ll see a lot of employees changing their perceptions.”
Read Jess's full story here.
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