Every Wednesday from 1pm to 3pm, Jollof Café sets up home in West Hill Hall, serving lunch for around £5 and providing a supportive and friendly space where new and old arrivals to the city can connect with each other and the local community, writes Mads Ryle.
Jollof Cafe is a project of the Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self-Support Group. Running for a few years now, and entirely self-managed, the cafe supports asylum seekers and migrants in Sussex through mutual self-help and solidarity. Each week members from those communities prepare and share food from their homeland; for some it is a rare opportunity to do so as they may not have access to their own cooking facilities. Jollof is a place where a shared (usually vegan) meal and conversation brings together and fosters understanding amongst the refugee, migrant, and settled communities in Brighton & Hove. It unites people from different walks of life.
As Richard, who comes most weeks, says:
When I go to the Jollof I know I’ll leave with my spirits lifted and my belly full of tasty, healthy food. I always meet such interesting people and I love the ethos of mutual help and solidarity. Nothing brings people together like a shared meal.
The team behind Jollof Cafe are committed to creating a safe and inclusive space for all, including those who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The cafe operates on principles of anti-oppression, mutual respect, and liberation for all, affirming the fundamental rights of all individuals to migrate and opposing all forms of border enforcement.
Beyond the delicious food and the joy of eating, a community has grown up around Jollof Café which provides essential forms of support: bureaucratic, emotional, social and financial.
Because the cafe is not a charity providing a service, but instead an autonomous space that is self-organised around principles of mutual solidarity, it has become a safe and effective place for asylum seekers and migrants to engage with and communicate about the Home Office and the processes around applying for asylum.
Each week there are people present who can help others in finding a legal representative, furthering their asylum case, accessing health services or finding stable housing. As well as people going through these processes themselves, representatives from other local projects also attend: for example, caseworkers from Refugee Radio are on hand most weeks, an occupational therapist volunteers at the café each month.
Cafe volunteers are regularly approached by other organisations in the city about collaborations. The Brighton and Hove Food Partnership recently organised a day trip to a local food growing project for cafe members. The NHS has previously delivered wellbeing sessions at the cafe. A photography project is currently being planned.
Even more importantly, people who have connected at the cafe keep in touch and can lean on each other for advice, or in times of crisis, or to socialise and celebrate. Jollof Café and the community around it is actively combating social isolation.
The project and its volunteers have also been involved in other events, like the very successful ‘Refugee Valentine’ music event held at The Old Market last February, a communal Iftar meal held during Ramadan in April, or a recent gig at the Brunswick pub. Some of these are fundraising events (often organised by local charity Thousand 4 £1000) which provide crucial funds for tackling destitution or meeting the costs of asylum applications.
Another regular perfectly captured the spirit of the cafe:
It feels to me like a melting pot of decent human beings who enjoy lunch and conversation together in a positive, kind environment. On any Wednesday, some folks experiencing hard situations will be getting advice and support, some of us will be tasting Egyptian or Syrian or South American recipes for the first time and meeting new people. Babies will be admired, good news will be celebrated and neighbours who don’t usually speak will be getting to know each other. What’s not to like?”
Jollof Café runs from 1-3pm each Wednesday at West Hill Hall. The project welcomes donations of time, money or materials; you can contact them on [email protected].