At its heart, Cheers Drive is about community.
Conceived in under a week as a rapid response to Covid-19, the project has to date delivered over 140,000 meals to people facing homelessness amidst the pandemic.
This has required a huge effort from many different individuals and organisations within Bristol, all whom have pooled their talents to source, cook, and deliver healthy nutritious meals to the people in our community who need them.
Over the coming months, we will be using this blog to shine a light on some of these amazing people, starting with the Easton-based Coexist Community Kitchen.
For the uninitiated, please could you introduce yourself and tell us what Coexist Community Kitchen does?
My name is Ari Cantwell and I run the Coexist Community Kitchen with my amazing colleague Claudia Poligioni. The kitchen is a non-profit cookery school- we run cookery classes with people who are accessing support services in the city; such as mental health support, people who are refugees or asylum seekers, people in drug & alcohol recovery to name a few.
We work directly in collaboration with many organisations- with the idea that food is an incredible way to bring people together, create & share and support people in building connections, creating spaces that feel like home and of course just having fun. We feel that in this small way we are able to use food as a vehicle to bring people together and challenge issues such as social isolation & marginalisation and food access.
“we need to work with people; create spaces that feel like home, support people to feel heard & valued and bring joy to each other as well as just eat food.”
Let’s go back to the beginning- what were you doing prior to the formation of Coexist Community Kitchen and how did you get started?
Many years ago- in 2011; I started at Coexist as a volunteer intern to help set up a community kitchen at Hamilton House.
I have always been passionate about both food and community projects but really this has become more cemented and full of conviction over the past 9 years. I didn’t ever plan to be running a kitchen but now that I do- I absolutely love it and the tangible feeling of connections, learning and joy that are felt when you cook with people.
What’s been your proudest moment throughout the duration of the project?
Rebuilding the kitchen in Easton after our devastating eviction in 2018 from Hamilton House- we had to shut up shop, move out and were all made redundant.
However, along with INCREDIBLE support- myself and Claudia felt that we were NOT going to let the kitchen die. So the whole of 2019 we fundraised and rebuilt the kitchen, opening in January 2020. Had we have known how long it would take and how much it would cost- I am not sure we would have done it… so it’s a good job we didn’t!
How has Covid-19 changed the way that you work? How are you adapting to it?
All of our work had to stop from March until September as no one was allowed in the kitchen. All our workshops stopped and all our income from catering stopped. So we swiftly turned our space in to a food provision kitchen.
Since June we have shifted to between 150-200 meals a week so that we can also run a takeaway service every Thursday to generate some income and our limited workshops the rest of the week- with our partner organisations this semester who include Young Carers Support Centre One25, Second Step, Refugee groups and ARA. We have been working with Caring in Bristol for the past month- providing them with fresh meals on a weekly basis to support the people that they work with.
“food provision is not just about feeding people- its about making people feel seen.”
What is it about cooking that makes it such an effective means of reaching people experiencing social marginalisation?
Everyone needs to eat food. Whether people have access to it, care about it or prioritise it in their life- they need to eat it. Obviously in a crisis situation- getting people the physical nourishment that they need is paramount.
However, for a longer term impact in ensuring people feel valued, cared of, heard and listened too- we believe that sharing skills, eating together, building friendships in the kitchen not only nourishes our body, but also our soul and therefore our communities. Crisis response is unfortunately necessary in our society- it was before COVID and will be after…. but if we want to make real change; we need to work with people; create spaces that feel like home, support people to feel heard & valued and bring joy to each other as well as just eat food.
Are there any issues or resources around food provision that you wish more people in Bristol knew about?
There are many people who have been experiencing difficulty in terms of food access- all across the city, from all sorts of backgrounds and much of it hidden and invisible. Something acute that is happening due to the fall out of COVID is that many of the social spaces used by people who are refugees or asylum seekers have had to shut their doors- these would be places where amongst so much support around a person’s asylum case- people would also be able to meet people, have food together, create art, play music.
These, amongst so many other places, are now no longer opening or are on a skeleton timetable. This means that a place to get food has gone, but also a place to create connections and a sense of resilience has gone… food provision is not just about feeding people- it’s about making people feel seen. In this context when we are just getting food to people’s plate- it is just the baseline… but we believe that people should not only get their tummies fed; but also their hearts.
I imagine that running a community kitchen is a two-way process in terms of learning- do you have a favourite recipe that you’ve picked up along the way?
We get to learn SO many recipes from around the world- that are unbelievably delicious- I can’t even name all of them. However, one that stand out and that I cook a lot at home is Havuc- a Turkish carrot salad- check out the recipe below!
How can people find out more about Coexist and support your work?
Buy a Thursday takeaway from us to support our food provision work, order catering from us (COVID regulations permitting!), and donate to our project.
All photos courtesy of Benjamin Pryor.