Words by Smiley Team
When arriving in the UK, refugees face many barriers to work, including a lack of language skills and social networks – especially so in big cities like London, which can feel overwhelming.
The unemployment rate is four times higher for refugees than the national average, and employment is their first priority for integration.
So, to bridge the divide between refugees, asylum seekers and the community as a whole, the London borough of Lewisham founded a Refugee Cafe in 2019.
It aims to provide a path to employment and friendship, by helping refugees and those granted asylum in London to build safe, happy and productive lives. Lewisham is also offering a home to 100 families who have gained asylum by 2022.
A team of local chefs, all granted asylum in Lewisham, work to cook up a storm, with food from their home countries to sell at various outlets.
Some of the offerings for sale include Persian carrot jam, Ecuadorian chimichurri and Syrian chilli paste. At the same time, they’re gaining hospitality training, and coaching towards their employment or enterprise goals.
The Refugee Cafe plans to open an eating and meeting place for locals and newcomers to unite, and learn from each other over food and drinks – a “perfect recipe for community and contribution”.
And, on the 18 March, it’s hosting its first community dinner of the year, with lovely traditional Syrian food and entertainment.
Viggo is a volunteer, who has helped the trading team since 2021. “Meeting other volunteers as well as shoppers has been a hugely enjoyable experience," he said.
"The city can be a tough place for newcomers, which was one of my initial motivations to step forward to join the volunteer team.
"I very much look forward to the permanent cafe being launched.”
The Refugee Cafe has also been selected for the Co-op Local Community Fund, so if you’re a Co-op member, you can select them as your local cause. For £1, you can get a membership with the Co-op and raise funds when you shop, to help local refugees work.
BOOK TICKETS: You can book tickets for the three-course traditional Syrian meal.
BUY FOOD AND SUPPORT: find out more about the Refugee Cafe’s work, and where to buy their products, on their website.