Cookery classes have been temporarily closed down by Migrateful because of the coronavirus pandemic | Photo: Emma Wallis
Cookery classes have been temporarily closed down by Migrateful because of the coronavirus pandemic | Photo: Emma Wallis

As the lockdown continues across the UK, charities and organizations that help migrants are feeling the pinch. InfoMigrants caught up with one of them, which has been forced to close down its cookery lessons.

"It's been a very dramatic week," says Jess Thompson, who runs Migrateful. The charity has worked hard to provide migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with a way to feel integrated and useful by teaching people in the UK how to cook food from their homeland.With the new restrictions in place, they've had to completely shut down their cookery lessons and catering businesses. "Everything with Migrateful is pretty uncertain and difficult." The founder of Migrateful Jess Thompson with one of her Iranian chefs Elahe  Photo With kind permission of Migrateful"About 85% of our revenue used to come from the cookery class sales," says Thompson, who herself has just been discharged from hospital after suffering breathing problems due to suspected Covid-19 infection.

Cash flow stopped

"Now that we've had to cancel all our classes, our cash flow has completely stopped. A lot of other charities' grants are still coming through, but we suddenly have no money coming in," Thompson explains.

The first priority for Migrateful is supporting their network of chefs, some of whom do not receive any government support and rely on the 100-pound monthly solidarity fund from Migrateful. Migrateful is now fundraising via JustGiving, a social online platform, in the hope of reaching 40,500 pounds, enough to tide them over for the next three months and pay salaries and support the chefs. After that, Thompson doesn't know what they can do. The Migrateful team celebrate their second birthday in 2019  Photo with kind permission of Migrateful"In that sense it all feels quite stressful, and we don’t know how long this crisis will go on for," she says. "We are speaking regularly on the phone and checking everyone is calm. We are trying to give them online parties."

With just 100 pounds a month, Thompson explains that things are tight. Monthly outgoings amount to about 13,000 pounds per month, which includes the salaries of staff and paying the chefs. "We can survive for three months but we wouldn’t be able to survive for much longer than that without doing some serious fundraising," she says.

Resilience and wisdom

"There is so much fear going around and a lot of them are really scared," Thompson says. But she also acknowledges how resilient her chefs are. "Many of them have already been through war and very hard times, so there is a lot of wisdom among them." While a lot of people in western countries are feeling a sense of having no control and worrying that family members will die for the first time -- for many members of the Migrateful team, this is a familiar feeling.Elahe and Parastoo are a mother and daughter team who cook together | Photo: With kind permission from Migrateful Cooking online

Thompson is looking for ways to innovate and find new revenues. On Sunday they did a UK Mother's Day cook-along, making Jollof rice with the vegan Nigerian chef.They are also publishing recipes online to help people who are suddenly reliant on cooking at home.

New ideas for fundraising

Thompson hopes she can make online cookery lessons work. The snag, she says, is that many of the chefs don’t have wifi or internet at home, or they are unable to film themselves if they are in isolation. Ahmed teaching Migrateful customers in London | Photo: With kind permission of MigratefulThat hasn't dampened the spirits of chefs like Ahmed from Lebanon. He recently messaged the "Migrateful family" chat group to make sure that everyone was alright. Although he has no right to work and no access to public funds, he offered to forgo his solidarity payment if it would help support other chefs in even greater need. He signed off: "Let's be there for Migrateful, this amazing family that believed in each and everyone of us. Stay safe. Ahmed."

Thompson hopes that the online cookery classes will be up and running soon, and this time it won't just be for people in the UK but for those all around the world to show solidarity and help the chefs and the organization get through the pandemic.


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