Nearly one year ago I received an e mail from a woman called Liz Siena. She is an American who has long lived in London and who volunteers at a centre for refugee women in South London. She found Virtuous Bread because she had an idea…
“Wouldn’t it be nice to help (a refugee woman) put her natural gift for bread-making to work? And wouldn’t it be nice if there were a bakery where refugee women could bake bread, improve their English, gain confidence and develop their employability skills?”
One year later, the second bread class is taking place RIGHT NOW – even as I type.
Liz found Virtuous Bread and Virtuous Bread has a wonderful, generous, and talented Bread Angel named Deborah whose background made her the perfect fit to train the women. Not only is she is Italian and so knows what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land – although of course not from the point of view of a refugee – she is also a lawyer who has specialised in working with vulnerable women and prisoners. Deborah agreed enthusiastically do to the bakery training – and she is doing it voluntarily for as long as she can – which is incredible.
Liz found the kitchen where we are doing the training – a lovely renovated cottage at the incredible Myatt’s Field Park in South London. Myatt’s Field Park is a gorgeous, listed park, that provides a marvellous recreation and relaxation facility in crowded South London. Over and on top of that – which is a service to the local community on its own – they have a cafe and green houses which support both growing projects and food projects to help the local community. They have donated their space to the project – which is incredible.
Liz found the Refugee Council which is one of the UK’s leading charities dedicated to supporting refugees – helping them to rebuild their lives in the UK and enabling them to have a stronger voice in the decisions that affect them. They agreed to help us locate the women and to coach us on what their needs might be. They have donated their time and expertise to the project – which is incredible. Liz also found some kind sponsors: Bakery Bits has donated some kit and Shipton Mill is donating the flour – once again – incredible. The project – and it is a project at this point – is called Just Bread. Just for justice and Bread for, well, bread. We all met last summer in the meeting room next to the kitchen in the park and never has such a kind and willing group got together so smoothly.
The original aim of Just Bread is to take refugee women through a 12 week course in which they learn to bake a range of bread from traditional, “Western” bread to the bread of their own country. Along the way they will develop their English language skills and they will take important steps toward being more at home in their new country: taking the bus, learning how to cook in a western style kitchen, shopping for ingredients, handling money, socialising in a supportive group and, we sincerely hope, developing the skills and the passion to develop economic autonomy through baking – either working for themselves or working in a bakery.
The first class was last week and in that class eight women learned how to bake some healthy, inexpensive simple bread made from wheat flour and rye flour. Three of the women are from Somalia. Two are from Iran. One each is from Cameroun, Bolivia, and Ethiopia. None had really baked and all produced lovely loaves and pronounced the class to be a success having learned things (all sorts of things) that “you could never learn in a book”. Today they are exchanging recipes and bread from their own countries and they are going to start on “sugar baking” with American brownies.
We have big dreams of opening a bakery and staffing it with refugee women who specialise in selling bread from their own countries along side more European bread. In this way, refugee women have a profession, earn their own money to take care of themselves and their families, and make a positive contribution to the social, cultural, and economic wealth of London. Those plans are some way off and will require capital, skills, and grit. We have the grit and we are working on the rest.
The project is amazing and here is what would make it even more amazing:
1. A better oven. Our oven is pretty pants – it does not get very hot, nor does it fit very much inside it.
If you would like to help us buy a better oven (you can tell by the colour of the bread that the oven is pretty basic and it is REALLY small) please make a donation here. If you make or sell ovens and would like to sponsor us with a new oven please contact us.
2. Money to pay Deborah to do the teaching. If you would like to enable us to pay Deborah or sponsor a Bread Angel through the course please make a donation here.
If you would like to discuss being part of our bigger plans to set up a bakery to help refugee women make a positive contribution to the UK, please contact us.
Stay tuned for more updates and follow Just Bread on twitter.