Here are some questions you may want to know about Migrateful…
1. What problem does Migrateful address?
Migrateful seeks to address the lack of support provided to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants on their integration journey. Firstly, our chefs are asylum seekers without the right to work and no recourse to public funds. Over 65 million people around the globe have had to flee their homes in recent years due to conflict or natural disaster – the equivalent to the entire British population having to leave their homes. The refugee crisis is the crisis of our time. And compared with other European countries, the British asylum system is one of the least generous in supporting refugees caught up in this crisis. Only 34% of initial decisions made by the Home Office in 2017 were grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection). For example, our Nigerian chef was trafficked to the UK when she was 16, she is now 34 and is still waiting to get her refugee status.
Secondly our chefs are refugees struggling to access employment. 50% of the 125,000 refugees living in the UK are unemployed, despite being more qualified and more educated than the average British person. This is often due to language barriers and their qualifications not being recognised. Our Iranian chef worked as a qualified psychologist in Iran, until she was forced to leave. Since arriving to the UK 8 years ago, she has been unable to secure employment because of her level of English and her qualification not being recognised.
Thirdly our chefs are migrants who have lived in the UK for 5, 10, 15 years yet are unable to speak English. There are 768,000 migrants in the UK who do not speak English well or at all, yet the government has cut the English teaching budget by 50% over the last 5 years. Without English these individuals struggle to integrate and access employment. Our Cuban chef has lived in the UK for 12 years but has a very poor level of spoken English – she says this is because she never gets the chance to speak to English speakers as she lives with her Cuban family.
The lack of funding for initiatives which support the integration of the migrant community in the UK, such as English classes and opportunities for them to mix with other British people, has repercussions for the whole of society. The foreign-born population in the UK has more than doubled during the last 25 years which is undeniably a huge change for society. In order to avoid the build up of anti-immigrant sentiment (as witnessed during the Brexit campaign), active policy is needed to support the process of integration between the newly arrived migrant community and the established white British community.
2. How does Migrateful address this problem?
Whilst government immigration policy is hard to change, as a society there are many ways that we can support the UK migrant population and attending a Migrateful cookery class is one of those ways. Migrateful is a cookery and language initiative where asylum seekers, refugees and migrants struggling to access employment due to legal and linguistic barriers teach their traditional cuisines to the public. This project aids their integration process by addressing obstacles of destitution, unemployment, isolation and language barriers.
Migrateful chefs attend a weekly chef training group which offers them an important support network and a chance to share feelings and food in a safe environment whilst improving their English and cookery class teaching skills. When they feel ready, they are invited to teach a cookery class to paying customers. Along with the weekly English class, the Migrateful chefs gain conversation practice during the cookery classes which has already shown to significantly improve their level of spoken English. Their experience with Migrateful also increases their chances of going on to future employment. When teaching a class, they develop key employability assets such as time keeping, planning and leadership skills.
When our chefs have the right to work we pay them for leading a cookery class. Yet in several cases our chefs don’t have the right to work. At the end of a class we explain to participants the various ways in which they can support the chef. For example, customers attending our Pakistani chef Iqra’s classes, have offered to pay for her art materials as she is a keen artist or offered her legal contacts that could help her case. Chefs are often having to travel various times a week for the chef training and cookery classes so we are able to offer them a travel card to cover their travel expenses.
Migrateful acts as a bridge between different ethnic groups within the community by bringing people together to share the universal love of food. In so doing it helps to build stronger, more united communities. Extensive research on “contact theory” has demonstrated that direct contact between different ethnic groups can help to reduce ethnic prejudice and improve intergroup relations. Contact has been found not only to improve attitudes towards the individuals directly contacted, but that the effects carry over to other “out groups” as well. Migrateful offers a rare opportunity for those who would not otherwise meet the chance to do so, in a relaxed setting, on an equal footing and centered around the near-universal love of food. It is thus able to draw in people beyond “the usual suspects” who might be interested in supporting asylum-seekers. While one single cookery lesson may be insufficient to make a profound change, Migrateful is working on ways to encourage repeat custom, not only as a way of generating more business, but also to enable longer periods of contact.
3. What has Migrateful achieved so far?
Since the company was founded in July, Migrateful has run 46 cookery classes and 32 chef training sessions. We now have eight chefs and four part time staff. We have had an extremely positive response to this idea from both customers and the media. Migrateful was the subject of a five-page feature in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, and has featured in the Evening Standard, the Metro, the International Business Times and filmed by the Press Association, Newsweek and soon to feature in the Guardian. This has taught us that Migrateful has the potential to capture national interest, with many readers from other cities emailing us to ask if they could start Migrateful in their city. This has prompted us to consider how the programme might be scaled beyond its London base.
Most humans share the universal love of food, so everyone feels they can buy into this idea. We’ve been told this is exactly the sort of event Londoners are looking for. Supper clubs are in high fashion; Londoners are looking for an intimate event and ways to meet new people. We’re moving away from a consumer economy to an “experience” economy, people will buy this experience. We sold 40 gift vouchers in the run up to Christmas, showing that people really liked the idea of it as a gift.
There is a real appetite amongst volunteers keen to support Migrateful. Two weeks ago we put out an advert for volunteers to help wash up at our cookery classes. In just two weeks we now have 30 committed volunteers on a rota to support our cookery classes with setting up equipment and washing up.
4. How does Migrateful measure it’s impact?
Migrateful aims to improve wellbeing and quality of life for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in Britain, and to facilitate integration between British citizens and the migrant community. These aims are reflected in six measurable outcomes:
- To improve wellbeing for refugees and asylum seekers
- To improve English skills for refugees and asylum seekers
- To increase confidence and leadership skills for refugees and asylum seekers
- To widen social networks for refugees and asylum seekers
- To increase employability for refugees and asylum seekers
- To facilitate positive interaction between British citizens and the UK migrant community.
The project has shown demonstrable benefits for chefs, customers and the wider community. We know from feedback from our chefs and customers that they really value what Migrateful offers. Netsi, our Eritrean chef, told Jess: ‘Migrateful helped me to feel more positive about life, because it helped me to do something I love, which is cooking!’. Iqra, our Pakistani chef, reported: “Since I arrived in the UK three years ago as an asylum seeker, this is the best project I’ve found, it has changed my life.”. Migrateful is also successful in facilitating positive social interactions between different cultural groups. Class participants have reported: ‘It is an absolutely fantastic way to spend time with friends, meet new people, and learn about a culture and cooking in a cosy, well-equipped, fun and safe setting’. Another told us the class was ‘an enriching way to spend an evening. Cooking and eating with new people, talking and learning about other lives, food and cultures’.
The Migrateful model centres around its chefs, who are given the support to work on their own projects beyond the weekly classes. Our Syrian chef, Majeda, felt angry about her people in Syria being caught up in a military siege in Eastern Ghouta since 2012. We hosted an event called ‘Siege Soup for Syria’ where Majeda and other speakers invited by her, talked about what was happening in Syria and what we could do to help. The event was an enormous success, attracting over 60 people across London: the largest Migrateful event to date. Through this process, we have learned the importance of trusting and supporting chefs to run their own projects, which have enormous potential for growing Migrateful as a whole, and how we can use our social media network to harness support for the plight of our chefs, giving them a platform for their voice to be heard.
5. How could Migrateful’s solution be scaled to benefit millions of people?
Migrateful brings together individuals who have escaped war and poverty to share their skills with customers hoping to learn and enjoy their food. The idea can be replicated in any location where there are refugees, breaking down barriers between ethnic groups, celebrating diversity and helping refugees to integrate in their host country. In the long term, we would like to use income generated to offer Migrateful cookery classes to poorer communities for free, as an integration initiative with the aim of overcoming ethnic tensions dividing communities, as first piloted in the Meadows estate.
Migrateful’s simple model, operating from community venues and in hosts’ homes, means that we can be nimble. We do not need expensive premises and we can quickly scale up wherever there is demand. Key to this will be the recruitment of dedicated local facilitators, supported by a detailed operating playbook and bespoke Migrateful app, who will be responsible for establishing, running and growing local pools of chefs, events and customers. They key components for a Migrateful cookery class are a host, a cookery class facilitator to transport equipment to the venue, a refugee chef and class participants.
We would like to showcase the chef’s recipes and stories through a youtube channel and recipe book which could bring in additional funding and expand our customer base.
6. How does Migrateful differ and improve on what it’s competitors offer?
There are many refugee food initiatives, many of which involve the refugee cooking for others as part of a social enterprise catering service. Migrateful is different because we facilitate a coming together of people where the refugee is the leader and the centre of attention, empowering them through skill sharing. It is a time for them to be celebrated and listened to. Throughout the asylum process, refugees are needing to constantly ask for help which is draining: Migrateful is a chance for them to give something back. Our chefs often comment on this aspect of the project. Our Nigerian chef, Betty, told us: “People enjoyed my cooking so much, which gives me so much confidence that I am not useless. I can do something.” Not only does the chef get a chance to lead a cookery class, but the weekly chef training group has become a supportive lifeline through ongoing difficulties. Our chefs have described the group as ‘like one big family’, with one reporting: “It feels that coming in this group we are not called a refugee or asylum seeker. We are called a person which means we get respect, love and care.”
From the customer’s point of view, Migrateful’s classes offer much more than just a cookery lesson. Migrateful offers a novel experience in the comfort of your own home, with an added “feel good factor”, knowing you are benefiting those in need. It’s a chance to make a new friendship with the refugee chef and to give them an opportunity to share their story in a setting where they feel empowered, cared for and supported. The facilitation of this friendship is extremely valuable to both chef and customer and very unlikely to happen otherwise in the midst of busy city life.