What is Migrateful? Introducing the Bristol cookery class taught by refugee chefs

Fancy learning how to make Sudanese baklava?

When Negla got married at the age of 19, her grandmother taught her the skills of Sudanese cooking, stressing to her the importance of being able to provide for her husband and family. However, it wasn’t until she came to the UK as a refugee, after being forced to escape civil war in Sudan, that she developed a true passion for cooking.

Now, she is teaching the very skills her grandmother taught her to people here in Bristol with Migrateful, a charity that aims to bring people together through food.  

Migrateful supports asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants by helping them run their own cooking classes, where they can share their knowledge of traditional cuisine and culture to paying customers. This provides income and opportunities that are often inaccessible to migrants, who find that legal barriers and a lack of support from the government prevent their integration into British society.  

We visited Negla at St Werburghs Community Centre (one of three Migrateful locations in Bristol) for her lesson in traditional Sudanese cuisine.

On the menu for us was Sudanese Graa (a pumpkin curry), Gourrassa (flatbread), Molah Nemya (an okra dip) and Baklava for dessert. As she helped us with seasoning our okra dip, Negla explained how this dish brought her family together on Friday nights, as they would sit round a pot, dip their flatbreads and reconnect at the end of the week. “The food I cook here reminds me of home. When we cook together and share food together, this makes me very happy”, she said.  

As well as providing the chefs with valuable opportunities and confidence, Migrateful also aims to change wider perspectives on immigration within Britain. According to founder Jess Thompson: “We have a real problem in this country at the moment, where people think that migration is a big issue, and we’re trying to challenge that and see [it] as a really positive thing”.

With over 30,000 participants in 5 different areas of the UK so far, they are certainly reaching a lot of people. It is undeniable that the process of sitting around a dinner table with complete strangers and talking to Negla has broadened my own outlook on immigration and the difficult process of integrating into the UK.  

Volunteer Maddy Ridgley, who led our session in Bristol, started doing work for Migrateful because she wanted to give back to her community. “There’s always a real sense of joy and togetherness in the cooking classes”, she says. “People who don’t know each other come together, people from different countries and diverse backgrounds, but everyone’s here doing the same thing. They’re here because they want to cook, and they want to eat! Food is such a simple way to bring people together because it goes beyond language and culture and background and history.” 

In a post-Brexit time when migrants trying to escape war and persecution have been consistently demonised by the front pages and politicians, programmes like Migrateful could hardly be more relevant. This feels especially true considering the tragic news today that four migrants have died in a desperate attempt to cross the English Channel, the latest in a number of deaths as the government continues to refuse providing safe and legal routes for migrants whilst describing the crossings as an “invasion on our Southern coast”.

The sense of unity and friendship felt round the dinner table after Negla’s class was a world away from the culture of division, fear and hatred whipped up by those in government, and through the power of cooking, Migrateful is helping to change that culture. In helping refugees to successfully integrate into communities and creating a sense of shared understanding through food, Migrateful is, in a small but significant way, helping people from across the world to thrive in the UK. The food’s bloody good, too!  

You can find out more about Migrateful at https://www.migrateful.org/.  

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