Bread & Roses: Helping refugee women flourish through floristry
Cheery Instagram snaps of floral bouquets are far from the typical gut-wrenching images of the refugee crisis. However, they represent the hidden challenges facing refugees in the UK.
The bright bouquets are carefully crafted during workshops hosted by social enterprise Bread & Roses. The trainee florists? Refugee and asylum-seeking women regaining their confidence and self-worth.
Olivia Head and Sneh Jani co-founded Bread & Roses at the peak of the refugee crisis, in 2016. The founding mission was to provide a safe space in which refugee and asylum-seeking women could “express themselves, be creative, and feel valued,” wrote Sneh.
From the very first workshop, run in conjunction with Women for Refugee Women, the potency of the flowers was immediately apparent.
“The women in the workshop were blown away to work with the flowers,” said Olivia. “Offering that pleasure to women who are often not afforded many pleasures in their daily lives was a powerful act.”
Bread & Roses: The Name
The name stems from the idea of Rose Schneiderman, an American socialist and feminist. Schneiderman famously opined, “The female worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.”
“Charities and social enterprises are not just working with refugees. These women are women of colour, often with no formal education. They fall into so many different socially marginalised groups. […] Essentially, [the name contends] that people of all backgrounds should have access to life’s pleasures, and be able to flourish in whatever way they want to,” explained Olivia.
The co-founders have a keen interest in the political system perpetuating the struggles refugee women face. Women waiting for their asylum applications to be processed have no right to employment, and receive just £5 as a daily stipend: the cost of a salad in a high-street cafe.
However, Olivia acknowledged that first-hand immersion in the system is essential before passing judgement. “You can’t just watch I, Daniel Blake and expect to know about job centres. We’re trying to keep the political fire burning, but also critique the existing system in a constructive and honest way.”
Workshops & Women
In doing so, Sneh and Olivia established an employability programme, complementing the transferable skills gained through floristry. The women attending the workshops can learn to write a CV alongside practising spoken English, and better prepare to enter the UK job market.
“Something we didn’t realise was that a lot of the women we work with are the primary caregivers for their children: wanting employment is a much longer-term goal of some women,” Olivia admitted. It wasn’t until the first workshops were launched that the co-founders became truly aware of the barriers – big and small – facing refugee women seeking employment.
The decision to focus on women alone was not an easy one to make. Both of the founders felt that the challenges facing women were even greater than those facing their male counterparts. However, Olivia and Sneh recognised there were pros and cons to keeping men and women in the same space.
“The downside is that we’re an employability-focussed programme. It is inevitable that the women we help will go on to work with men and women. There’s a lot of value in women gaining confidence in engaging with men, particularly in the workplace.”
However, Olivia readily admitted a personal preference for Bread & Roses being an all-female space. “I’ve never really felt connected to other women in a way that I have found through Bread & Roses. Our work, and that of Women for Refugee Women, is feminism doing its best thing: women supporting other women.”
The co-founders were also conscious that engaging in an emotive way with these women, and addressing some of their past experiences, would often incur dealing with sensitive issues. The co-founders felt that as women, despite not having lived through such difficulties, they could communicate with other women in a sympathetic and sensitive way.
One woman fled her home country with her disabled son because his disability wasn’t understood in the way it should be. After arriving in the UK, she was kept waiting for refugee status, living on £5 a day and with no right to employment, despite having a disabled son to care for.
“One week, after a particularly awful experience, she opened up to us. She told us that the only thing she had been doing for herself during this time was to make sure that she came to the Bread & Roses workshops each week, for a bit of connection with other women,” Olivia recalled. “For me, that was a really powerful moment.”
The tangible effects of attending all-female floristry workshops have been astounding. For two Syrian women participating in the most recent programme, the experience has been transformative. Since starting the workshops, their confidence has blossomed. With their developing English skills, their perception of what they are capable of achieving in London has grown exponentially.
The big goal for the next programme is to make the soft skills learned through the floristry workshops more robust. The founders want to ensure their trainee florists are reflective of their personal development, and leave the workshops feeling more empowered to overcome any obstacle they may face.
Before the next workshop series starts in January, though, Olivia and Sneh have a lot to keep them busy. They’re looking for a new space, want to develop a proper structure for the employability workshops, and improve the recruitment process for the apprentices.
“We’re convinced this next one is going to be the perfect programme,” Olivia laughed. “But come back to us in a year, and we’ll say ‘That programme was so wrong!’”
With stunning floral arrangements and an enchanting social mission, we’re predicting a meteoric rise for Bread & Roses. By becoming a household name, Olivia and Sneh can help to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in the UK, and these innovative and inspiring co-founders will continue to provide emotional and practical support for refugee women on the path to meaningful employment.
Floral arrangements from £30. For more information about Bread & Roses, or to order a beautiful bunch for a Monday pick-me-up, please visit their website.