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Tasting Solidarity: Inside Garnethill Multicultural Centre Community Food Projects

Publication: Migrant Women Press

Learn what Migrant Women Press found out while immersing in a community meal and the multicultural food hub in the heart of Glasgow.

Entering through the red doors of Garnethill Multicultural Community Centre, you are in for a treat. The facility seems so quiet from the outside, but the laughs and bustle that greet you once you are inside is incredible.

On Friday, 24 November, I attended the St.Andrew’s Day celebration here. Upon entering the lobby, people were moving up and down the floors, which was my chance to find my way to the hall where the event was happening.

I was on time for the programme, and The Partick Pluckers were all set in their Scottish regalia and armed with their ukuleles, ready to serenade the crowd.

The staff and volunteers were on standby, ready to help. I started a conversation with one of the facilitators, who emphasised that the day was notably busier than their usual Fridays.

I joined the queue, and as it proceeded, I looked around the room.  The atmosphere buzzed joyfully while the colourful bunter and lights tied it all up beautifully. What I saw was the true sense of community.

The volunteers happily served the meals, and there was much to choose from. I could see people pulling seats for each other and others getting cutlery for someone.

This was not just any party; there was love in the room.

The Community Meals and Multicultural Food Hub

Garnethill Multicultural Centre extends a warm invitation to its diverse community with three weekly free vegetarian community meals: Wednesdays are dedicated to the Senior’s Healthy Lunch from 1–1:45pm, providing a welcoming space for older adults in Glasgow’s inner city.

Thursdays feature the Community Cafe Conversation from 12–1:30pm, where New Scots and the local community converge to share a delightful and warm meal, foster connections, make friends, and offer an opportunity to practise English language skills.

Finally, on Fridays, in collaboration with Central & West Integration Network, it hosts the Community Meal for Asylum Seekers from 12–2pm. This initiative not only provides asylum seekers with a space to relax over a cup of tea and a delicious hot meal but also serves as a platform for forging new friendships and connections within the community.

Those present for the meal are beneficiaries of some of the projects offered by Garnethill Community Centre and Central & West Integration Network, such as the drop-in service, ESOL classes, the Multicultural Food Hub and regular community users participating in the different activities.

Once my meal was served, I had a chance to chat with different people. One of them was Mary Mbugua, a volunteer, who was having a meal before offering her support to the Multicultural Food Hub who said: “I like volunteering here and love how it has very different things in the same place. You can volunteer; they have the food hub, the kitchen, the community meals”.

The  Food Hub is similar to a food pantry but has more choices for the members. To shop from the hub, people pay a weekly membership fee. The fees vary depending on their status: £1.50 for people in the asylum-seeker system, £2.50 for people on benefits, £5 for anyone else. People can take home between 5-20 kilos of food per week. 

In this way, community members can access the service more dignifiedly and have a choice on what they put in their shopping baskets.

Most of the food in the hub is supply chain surplus saved from ending up in dumpsters, and for the rarely donated items, the organisation can purchase and stock the items using the membership fee. 

Hence, they can also offer culturally relevant food in their selection. 

“It’s nice to see how people are happy when they find food they can take, like halal chicken. You can see people are interested and that they’re happy. They are genuinely happy. They can get a huge amount of food for a small fee”, Mary commented. 

The current opening hours for the Multicultural Food Hub is 1.30pm on Thursdays and Fridays but might vary and are subject to public holidays.

Embracing togetherness and breaking the chains of isolation in a vibrant community 

Being a migrant or visitor to a new place often brings with it a lot of challenges. One of the main ones is isolation, which is even more complicated if you cannot speak the local language. 

James*, a volunteer in the kitchen, joined an ESOL class when he was new in Scotland and followed the steps of his friend who was a volunteer there. This helped him with boredom as he lived in a hotel and had little to do.

“I started volunteering when I arrived in the country and was happy doing that. It was helping me in terms of not doing anything at times when I was in the hotel. I was being depressed … I’m so happy. It’s really helping,” he said.

Everyone is welcome at the facility, and this can be seen from the diverse nationalities present in the room and the kind of activities posted on the notice board: community parties, walking groups, seniors art club, community yoga, recovery groups, knitting groups, exercises, asylum seekers and refugee art groups and more. 

Community projects, especially food-related, bring people closer; it can be by sharing the cooking experience or the nostalgia of eating together.

Vanessa, one of the Latino dancers, told me that six years ago, she was alone in the country and came to the centre for ESOL classes. She used to come for the meal, and there she met some of her fellow Mexicans who had now come to perform on the day.

At the facility, the kitchen is run by a chef who works with different volunteers to prepare the meals and is there mainly to guide on portions and quality control. This makes it a perfect opportunity for the volunteers to gain confidence and new kitchen skills.

Community meals play a vital role in ensuring that those facing isolation can make contact with others.

One can benefit significantly from the facility, from a warm meal to many opportunities and information. Some people who become vulnerable can have their nutritional needs met and can access other services or activities that benefit their physical, mental, social, and sometimes spiritual health.

That day, I met Margaret Lance, a Community Engagement Coordinator for Waverly Care. She had a workshop set at the corner of the hall, and while the festivities continued, she quietly and actively spoke to different people.

“My role is raising awareness through education, which means I cover African and other ethnic minority communities when they have events like this one. … The stall is to provide people with information about what we do, HIV testing, hepatitis B and C, raising awareness about safer sex,” said Margaret.

The Trussell Trust reported a spike in the number of food parcels distributed between March 2022 and 1st April 2023 compared to the year before.

This is due to the cost of living crisis. Increased food prices have financially strained many families across the UK. 

The community food projects at Garnethill Multicultural Centre show how ‘breaking bread’ can offer a point of connection. It is not always the case when one has to receive a food parcel.

To conclude my journey, I could access the food hub, and the space was all set with a fridge, freezer and shelves neatly arranged.

I felt like I had just gone into my local grocery store. The staff and volunteers were also ready; there was a list of people that had been taken upstairs when people were getting their meal by a volunteer, and this way, they could know how many people would access the food hub.

Upstairs, at the main hall where the St Andrew’s Day celebration continued, cakes and hot drinks were served as people enjoyed performances from the dancers and later joined the NW circle dancing group to shake a leg.

While some community members left to go down the stairs and shop in the aesthetically pleasing pantry, others left for home feeling healed, loved and happy, knowing that the red doors are always open for them.

*The name was changed.

Community fo Food receiving a cheque for £3000

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