Refugee Café is led by local residents, half of whom have lived experience of being a refugee in Lewisham. We launched in 2019, brought together by Iolanda, founder of Action for Refugees in Lewisham, with a mission to provide employment opportunities for local refugees as well as celebrate the culinary cultures of South-East London.
In the past year we have worked with a team of refugee chefs to create products in our founder's kitchen, which are sold online and at markets.
Now we are Crowdfunding to launch a refugee-led café, providing training and jobs to out-of-work refugees whilst serving delicious food from a professional kitchen in the heart of Lewisham.
Illustration of Refugee Cafe by @MadalynFarleyArt
Why do we need this?
Employment is the number 1 priority for integration - work is a space to make friends, practice English and achieve financial independence.
However, refugees face many barriers to work including a lack of UK work experience, knowledge of the UK job market and English language skills. As a result a person who is a refugee is:
- 4 times as likely to face unemployment than the general population
- 5 times more likely to experience mental health issues.
In reality, this means decades of food banks, homelessness and increased risk of exploitation in casual and illegitimate work.
As Lewisham commits to become a Borough of Sanctuary, welcoming 100 vulnerable families from war torn countries, you can help make it a Borough of Opportunity.
By reaching the target we can ensure more people like our Head Chef, Ismail, can find employment, security and connections in Lewisham.
Ismail and Nahid cooking in our home-kitchen.
The effects of the pandemic on jobs, commerce and food poverty means there has never been a greater need for Refugee Café. Pledge today to make it happen and receive an amazing reward in return. By launching Refugee Café we can enhance our high street, protect our community spaces and provide learning opportunities – all served alongside amazing dishes.
What will Refugee Café do?
The café will:
Living Wage Employment
Create living wage employment, offering security to a team of out-of-work refugee chefs
Provide food-and-job skills training to support local refugees into mainstream employment – this will be the only hospitality employment programme designed specifically for refugees in Lewisham
Boost Lewisham’s economy by keeping profits circulating locally. As a social enterprise all profits will be invested into our social mission of supporting refugees into work, in time decreasing poverty among residents.
Healthy affordable food
Serve a delicious, international menu which celebrates the diverse food cultures of Lewisham. There will be a range of options, with an affordable hot meal available for people on low income
Rejuvenate our town centre after Covid through a programme of events which provide wellbeing and learning opportunities of our whole community, including community dinners, cinema nights, workshops and family activities
What will meeting the target mean?
Our talented team have made every product in our founders small home-kitchen. Whilst the results have been delicious, a lack of space has restricted how much food we can make and how many people we can work with – hugely limiting the paid roles and development opportunities available.
In the past year we have only been able to offer part-time work to two refugee chefs. Reaching the target will enable us to kit out a café in Lewisham’s centre where we will:
3 months of opening: Provide employment to 2 local refugees chefs in the kitchen. Our menu will suit all budgets, including affordable hot food for people on low income. The café will host a full programme of events including community dinners, workshops and cook-along’s – all welcome!
6 months of opening: The first cohort of 6 trainees will complete the foundation training programme, finishing with a professional CV, Level 2 Hygiene Certificate and work experience in the cafe.
After 1 year of opening: 24 trainees will have completed the initial training in the first year, going on to gain jobs in hospitality. We aim to employ 4 refugee chefs in the core kitchen team. We will also launch an advance training programme for trainees who want to build their own socially-food businesses, helping to create a more varied and exciting high street.
Where will the cafe be?
We are working with the Council and Mayor of Lewisham to secure a site for Refugee Cafe in central Lewisham, ready to launch This Autumn - but we need your help to kit it out!
Damien Egan: Mayor of Lewisham
What’s the long-term vision?
Our goal is for Lewisham to become a place where refugees thrive in a way that benefits everyone in our community.
Often people come to the UK with ideas to share their skills but have no opportunity to realise their plans. Refugee Café will act as a springboard for people to develop their own enterprises and events. Last year we offered business support to Mahir, a Syrian refugee living in Lewisham, who has now set up a Cheese Business and are looking forward to helping new ideas thrive, enabling more diverse businesses to bloom on Lewisham’s high street.
We will work with other organisations to increase access to living-wage employment for marginalised groups, collaborating to improve work and reducing poverty across London.
Refugee Cafe chef, Marco at the Market: Photo by Samer @samermoukarzelphotography
We can’t do it without you!
We are a grassroots organisation, built out of the dedication of a large team of volunteers. We started in December 2019 without a penny. Last year we raised £9000 from markets alone - but to kit out a kitchen would cost £20000! By launching the café we can keep the mission growing and really establish a Borough of Opportunity in Lewisham.
Thank you from the Refugee Cafe team for your support! We are really looking forward to meeting you at the cafe.