Andrew is a PhD student who is currently interning with the Destitution Services Team at JRS UK.
Every Monday afternoon, for the next 8 weeks, the JRS kitchen will be busy with people cooking and sharing recipes from all over the world. This is the JRS Community Kitchen, organised by Matilda, our wonderful Activities Co-ordinator, and I had the pleasure of being part of the first session this past week.
The idea behind the Community Kitchen is that, each week, a group of us will get together to prepare a favourite dish from our home country. It is a space to share a love of food, and that uses food to connect the different communities within JRS, coming from all over the world. And we are taking this a step further, seeking to build bridges beyond JRS, with other organisations and communities in London. We were happily joined by St Hilda’s Community Centre in Shoreditch, and we hope to collaborate more in the near future, with plans to take Community Kitchen ‘on tour’, visiting St Hilda’s for one of our sessions, or to welcome that community to JRS. The beginning of what we hope will be a healthy, foody relationship!
There are exciting plans for the week ahead – with curry from Kerala and Nigerian cassava with fish already on the cards – but we are starting closer to home, with many of our refugee friends keen to prepare some English classics. Next week we will be making rhubarb crumble and Victoria sponge, but this week we started with something hearty and simple – soda bread.
We took the recipe from Martina Maher and Colette Scully’s Saintly Feasts, a cookbook written, appropriately, by the erstwhile cooks at the Jesuit house in Birmingham. Martina and Colette arranged that the proceeds from their book would go to JRS, so we thought this would be an especially good way to show our continuing gratitude.
None of us had made soda bread before- so it was an educational experience for everyone! The groups showed intense concentration in preparing their loaf, and displayed great pride in their creations. While one of our friends kneaded the dough like a pro, another showed a particular flair for baking, making deep, neat cuts into the loaf, and improvising with an oat topping, before the breads went into the oven.
While we waited for the bread to bake, we had the chance to chat and play games. I had a fascinating discussion about Born Again Christianity with one of our friends, while others played a raucous card game of ‘Spoons’.
I was also reminded how valuable events like Community Kitchen can be, along with all the other work JRS does. It doesn’t just bring communities together, but can help our refugee friends through extremely difficult times. I was told how relaxing and therapeutic the baking was, how keeping your brain engaged like this keeps anxiety away, and helps you stay calm. It is not often one can feel this way in an asylum system that has left our friends destitute. One of our friends described it to me as a dark, dark tunnel without an end, with no light in the distance to give you hope and purpose – it is a darkness that breaks your spirit. JRS activities and events act as regular windows along this tunnel, letting in light to help you with the difficult journey. And the Community Kitchen is indeed a place of light, happiness and laughter.
We only found out at the end that it was one of our friend’s birthday – unfortunately we didn’t have any candles to put on a birthday soda bread, but we did manage to sing happy birthday, four times, in four different languages from around the world, and I’m sure we could have gone on much longer! It goes to show what a rich community we have here at JRS.
And what seems so clear to me, after my experience with Community Kitchen, is that food does not just nourish the body, but the spirit too.
Would you like to join the JRS team?