Council offers £80,000 to fund kitchen space for asylum seekers

Hackney Town Hall. Pic: Hackney Council

Up to £80,000 will be allocated by Hackney Council to a project providing a community kitchen for asylum seekers in the borough.

Not-for-profit organisations have been invited to apply for the grant funding, which is to be used for staffing costs, project materials, and administrative costs of setting up a fully equipped kitchen space accessible to local asylum seekers.

In Hackney, around 800 people have been placed in accommodation by the Home Office while waiting for the outcome of their asylum claims. The majority currently live in hotels, where meals are provided to them because there are no cooking facilities.

Pat Fitzsimons, CEO of Hackney Foodbank, said in a statement to Eastlondonlines: “We are delighted to hear that Hackney Council has allocated funding for a community kitchen project to support those seeking asylum. The hotels asylum seekers are housed in here don’t have cooking facilities and their residents tell us the food they serve is often too spicy, too salty and lacking in nutrients – they say they’re rarely served cooked vegetables. 

“Food is such a core part of culture and wellbeing; having access to healthy food is a basic human right and we hope this community kitchen project will serve to reduce malnutrition amongst those seeking asylum here and to connect and support people and signpost them to other agencies which can help.”

There are four hotels housing asylum seekers in Hackney, two in the north of the borough and two in the south. Up to £40,000 will be allocated to a successful proposal providing community kitchen access in one of the locations, or up to £80,000 to a proposal that would provide two kitchen spaces, with one near each of the two locations.

Councillor Carole Williams, cabinet member with responsibility for Equalities, said in a statement: “I personally visited one of the hotels and engaged with residents seeking asylum who expressed their desire to cook familiar meals. While local churches and voluntary sector groups have been supportive, we want to build their capacity to address the issue.

“This programme is a game-changer, giving residents seeking asylum autonomy choice by providing free, regular access to fully-equipped kitchens where they can cook their own meals in a safe and social environment, contributing to an improved sense of agency, and a more fulfilling and enjoyable cooking and eating experience.”

The project is set to begin in the spring of this year, and the grant will be for a period of 12 months. The council said they hope this will allow people seeking asylum to cook more nutritious meals and dishes of their preference, re-establish the important emotional connections between people and food and have an improved sense of physical and mental health and well-being.

Soraya Akrouche, coordinator at Hackney Refugee and Migrant Forum, told ELL: “While the grant funding provides temporary support, it’s clear that a single year’s worth of funding is far from a sustainable solution. Vulnerable populations within Hackney, such as those with No Recourse to Public Funds and migrant women experiencing domestic violence, continue to require ongoing assistance beyond the scope of short-term grants.

“While acknowledging the positive impact of the grant, it’s essential to remain cognizant of the larger systemic issues at play. Advocating for sustained support from central government is crucial to ensure the long-term viability of organizations addressing the needs of vulnerable communities in Hackney. It’s through collective efforts and ongoing advocacy that we can hope to address the complex challenges facing our borough and provide meaningful support to those most in need.”

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