A London-based social enterprise uses floristry to help displaced women rebuild their lives. It’s working so well, the founders are looking to expand
“I’ve never been green-fingered, so I didn’t think I’d have the skills,” says Mary* from Ghana, as she deftly begins to craft a bouquet. Under her nimble fingers, it soon takes shape, bursting with colour and scent.
Despite her previous lack of confidence in the floristry department, Mary – who is seeking asylum in the UK – now counts “calming” lavender and “stimulating eucalyptus among her favourite plants to work with. And it’s not the only way in which she’s grown since becoming involved with the Hackney-based social enterprise Bread and Roses.
“Building my knowledge and being prepared to make mistakes and learn from them, has made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and have the right support network around you,” she says.
For women from refugee backgrounds like Mary, support is key, as they face particular barriers to rebuilding their lives in the UK. They are less likely than their male counterparts to have formal work experience and often find it difficult to attend English classes due to childcare responsibilities. Many women rebuilding their lives in the UK are also coping with the trauma of sexual or gender-based violence.
Bread and Roses supports women to overcome these challenges. As well improving their vocational and England skills, the nine-week floristry training and English classes give them the chance to build new networks – not to mention enjoying the therapeutic benefits of working with flowers.
“Events in Afghanistan serve as a heartbreaking reminder of the trauma those displaced by conflict live through,” said Olivia Head, who co-founded Bread and Roses alongside Sneh Jani-Patel and Liv Wilson in 2016. The trio want to “help restore a sense of dignity and wellbeing for people from refugee backgrounds after all they have endured”.
Already this year, 17 asylum-seeking and refugee women from countries including Eritrea, Albania and the Philippines have taken part in the programme. One of the graduates from a previous programme has joined as a volunteer, “which we’re really excited about,” enthuses Head, who works on Bread and Roses alongside a full-time job.
The team also want to begin funding organisations outside of London to deliver Bread and Roses programmes in 2022. (Their operations have all been London-based so far).
At the end of the first of this year’s programmes, all participants reported improved wellbeing and increased confidence accessing services. All but one said their confidence in speaking English had improved.
For Head and the team though, it’s the small moments of joy, as much as the stats on paper, that are satisfying. These have included sitting together laughing, women from all corners of the world, to enjoy a Persian feast during Refugee Week in June.
Or seeing the women leave, carrying bouquets filled with roses, cosmos and dahlias that they had made in a workshop. With support, they are blooming, in more ways than one.
* Not her real name
Main image: Debby Hudson