Borderlands is a small charity working with asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol and the surrounding areas. We provide a number of services that aim to empower and build strong, resilient, communities. Through English lessons, a mentoring service, as well as numerous social activities we give people the tools to navigate and build a successful life here in the UK. The majority of asylum seekers do not have the right to work, so we also offer as many volunteering opportunities as possible for our members; this means our chefs, our welcome team, and those helping run the drop-in are asylum seekers themselves (over 80% of our volunteer team in fact). We offer them training and support and give them a way to occupy their time while navigating their way through the government’s slow-moving, hostile, immigration systems.

Food is a taste of home

One of our largest projects offers a social drop-in space where members can come and socialise while receiving advice and signposting. In this space we also acknowledge the importance of food and the big part it plays in ensuring not only physical health but also mental wellbeing. We consult regularly with our members to ensure the food we are providing is culturally appropriate and meets their needs. Food is a conversation starter and a relationship builder; over a plate of hot, healthy halal food at Borderlands many friendships are formed. It’s an offer of warmth and welcome and hopefully, for many, a taste of home.

“I [only get food from Borderlands]. I can communicate with people at Borderlands, I can find community.”

In the drop-in space we also provide a ‘social supermarket’. This is a new project that grew out of the pandemic. When face-to-face services had to shut and become remote, Borderlands decided to soldier on; people still needed food and for some this might be their only social contact in the week. Hot food became takeaways, and bags of fresh fruit and vegetables were packed up and handed out. Each Tuesday people would arrive and collect their food. Prior to the pandemic Borderlands had only provided a sit-down hot meal so this food bank-esque service was a whole new ball game, but we are adaptable and adapt we did.

The power of choice

As things began to open up again, we reassessed our services and spoke to our members and there was a resounding ‘yes please’ to the fresh fruit and vegetable provision continuing. At Borderlands we are big believers in the power of choice, so we slowly stopped making food parcels and began letting people pick from a selection of goods as you would in a shop. This not only reduced food waste as people selected what they wanted, not what we thought they wanted, but it also empowered people to decide what they wanted to eat.

Demand is growing

This project is now growing, as is the demand (we support around 150 a week via the supermarket alone). Through partners such as Feeding Bristol we have been able to improve our connections with food providers in the city, and are slowly building up a model of dignified food provision for those who need it the most.

“I don’t receive any support from the Home Office, so this food bank helps me a lot.”

For someone on £38 a week, or £8 housed in a hotel (the amount of financial support the government offer those on asylum support), or, like many of our members who cannot even access that, the idea of healthy eating may seem unreachable, but this should not be the case. We at Borderlands believe everyone has the right to a hot meal and no one should struggle to feed themselves or their family.

For more about our work and how to support us please visit our website