Refugee Cafe: The Albany Programme

Refugee Cafe Board
Refugee Cafe Board
It’s been a while since we were last in touch – Refugee Cafe has been a transitionary period as we renew our board and activities. We are now writing to update you on our work, partnerships, and shift in outputs. 

Refugee Cafe now has a new team of trustees, developed and piloted a bespoke chef training programme in partnership with Lewisham College, and a Ukrainian kitchen residency at The Albany. 
Refugee Cafe was formed in 2020 to bridge the divide between refugees, asylum seekers and the wider community in Lewisham. By providing a path to employment and friendship, we help refugees and those granted asylum in London to build safe, happy productive lives. 

We have experimented with a range of different activities over the past few years, including supper clubs, market stalls, and catering events in the local community. We have previously had a heavy public-facing presence and large distribution of goods, including jams, pickles and preserves. Although these schemes were incredibly successful for the charity, we are now focusing on tailored training and support for the people we work with in order to ensure that engagement is meaningful and effective in the development of skills, confidence, and employability. 
Since Spring 2023, we have had a number of changes to our team and activities which have allowed us to step back, reflect, recharge, and devise a new way of working. We now have six dedicated trustees that are steering the ship towards meaningful programmes for refugees in the local area. We are currently in the process of recruiting a new Chair for the Board of Trustees, and look forward to a new direction for the charity.

We have now ceased production of goods in order to focus energy on training and development for refugees. Last year, we secured a partnership with both Lewisham College and The Albany, and piloted our first ever pop-up lunch service at The Albany’s much loved community cafe. 

This Sector-based Work Academy Programme (SWAP) included bespoke hospitality training for those with refugee status. The six week course at Lewisham College included key skills-building opportunities, and ranged from barista training, culinary skills, and essential health and safety qualifications to get them started and ready for the job market. Once the training course was completed, we guaranteed interviews for a work placement at The Albany,  paying London Living Wage. 

During the residency at The Albany, our head chef Anastasia was able to showcase food that reminded her of home. Anastasia moved to London four months prior to joining us, and had fled Mariupol, Ukraine with her son, husband, and beloved dog. 
Anastasia curated a menu that reflected her lived experience. The menu changed over time, along with the seasonality of fruit and vegetables grown in The Albany’s leafy gardens. She was supported by our Chef Programme Manager to deliver the partnership. During this time, Anastasia grew her confidence in the kitchen whilst also developing her English skills. 

Anastasia’s most popular dish was layered courgette fritters (кабачковый торт) with a punchy garlic sauce, thinly sliced tomatoes and a healthy pinch of fresh dill. The courgettes were freshly picked from The Albany’s garden – thankfully there were plenty to go round as this dish was a sellout success. 
Other dishes that proved popular were a vegan Borscht, dumplings,  honey cake, an umami-rich mushroom bake, and hearty chicken escalopes with sauerkraut and creamy mashed potatoes.
The residency at The Albany ran for three months and allowed us to test out our own operational capacities whilst also evaluating the impact of the SWAP programme with our partners. Our goal was to train, upskill and support refugees in a meaningful way through this programme. We were delighted that Anastasia was able to secure employment in the same sector once the pop-up ended. We acted as springboard during this pilot scheme, and  would like to thank Lewisham College’s Hospitality Hub and The Albany for their incredible support in this process too.

This pilot concluded at the end of 2023 and we are currently reviewing and updating our new organisational strategy, and actively recruiting a new Chair to help lead our vision. We have no doubt that 2024 will also be a year for further experimentation and expansion, and hope that you will continue supporting our work along the way. 

At this moment in time, we are not actively pursuing a permanent and independent space for Refugee Cafe, and instead focusing our energies on partnership work that will uplift refugees, build skills, and transform lives. We believe that our pilot has been an exciting first step for Refugee Cafe’s development and we will ensure to build on this in a mindful and sustainable way. We understand that this change of direction impacts our previous crowdfunder campaign to establish a bricks and mortar cafe first and foremost, and are able to return donations on request.

Refugee Cafe will continue to build programmes that prioritise refugees – ensuring that those we work with are supported and uplifted through the activities we offer. We are working hard behind the scenes to secure a sustainable future with meaningful programmes and invite you to join us on this journey. Please ensure to follow us on Instagram on @refugeescafe, where we will be posting more regular updates on our work. You can also donate by texting REFUGEECAFE (and amount) to 70085 (e.g. REFUGEECAFE 5 to donate £5).

Thank you,
Refugee Cafe team