The Tower Hamlets floristry scheme helping refugees


Olivia Head and Sneh Jani, co-founders of Bread & Roses which works to help refugee women into work

Olivia Head and Sneh Jani, co-founders of Bread & Roses which works to help refugee women into work

An award-winning social enterprise shows that, through sharing a love of flowers, opportunities for some of London’s most vulnerable women can bloom.

Bread & Roses was co-founded by Sneh Jani and Olivia Head with the common ambition of helping vulnerable women refugees and teaches floristry skills alongside opportunities to practice English and receive emotional support. Having worked with over 50 women to date, its second programme of training starts this week, with eight more pupils welcomed onto the 11-week course. Last year around 28,000 asylum seekers arrived in Britain according to the Refugee Council.

It was while on a University placement, translating asylum claims at the UN Refugee Agency, that Jani realised she wanted to do something to benefit asylum seekers. Co-founder Head worked at a homeless shelter and quickly observed the lack of support, “refugees were just falling through the gaps,” says Jani. After witnessing the devastating conditions at the refugee camp in Calais, the two founders were inspired to set up Bread & Roses.

The name for their organisation was inspired by feminist Rose Schneiderman’s 1912 speech. “The phrase means that the worker must have bread, but must have roses too,” says Jani. “We think they should have the opportunity to flourish.”

And so in May 2016, Bread & Roses was born with the first session, supported by Women for Refugee Women, teaching 20 students, many of whom hadn’t had the confidence or opportunity to work in years. The money generated from selling the flower arrangements in local cafés provided an income for the women, “we sold them in jam jars hoarded by Olivia’s mum,” recalls Jani. The second cohort is supported by a lead florist, an English-language teacher and an employment advisor during the weekly meetings at St Hilda’s Community Centre. “We have women from Syria, Nigeria, Algeria, Senegal, Yemen and Kuwait, all with different aspirations,” says Jani. “These are women that have gone through a tough process to be here and want to build a life.”

Bread & Roses also wants to engage the community and both individuals and organisations can sponsor a pupil for £500. Sponsors receive a bouquet every week during the floristry training and can attend a floristry workshop run by the refugees at the end of the programme. Each bouquet comes with a note from the refugee who created it, “it makes the whole thing personal,” says Jani. After floristry training the women begin a four-week work placement and have the opportunity to freelance for Bread & Roses on future projects.

“It’s incredibly difficult to get people back into work,” says Jani. “Many of the women have been waiting for over 10 years for their case to be reviewed and are in a state of limbo.” Women trained by Bread & Roses are now in or actively working towards employment. “The course has taught me how to arrange flowers and how to laugh with people,’ says one former Bread & Roses pupil. Another participant is now on an Oxfam training scheme. “She was very timid and shy when we first met her and didn’t really want to share her story.” Jani saw a transformation, “it’s amazing, she’s now one step closer to gaining work.”

With another programme planned for summer, Jani and Head are hoping to grow Bread & Roses and continue supporting refugees in London. “We are really excited to see how these women progress.”

For more information on how to get involved, visit:

Words by Anabelle Denford

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