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Welcome Cinema + Kitchen
Ed Miles

Inside the film and food club bringing Londoners and refugees together

Welcome Cinema + Kitchen brings refugees and Londoners together for an evening of movies, food and community.

By Phil de Semlyen
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If your go-to movie snack is a tub of popcorn or a sack of pick ’n’ mix almost guaranteed to upset your dentist, there’s a charity pop-up with a delicious new slant on the food-and-a-film combo to get your teeth into. Welcome Cinema + Kitchen, running since 2016 with support from Help Refugees UK, is the brainchild of four friends: Advia Ahmed, Claire Wilson, Maggie Hibberd and Tommy Fitzer. Its premise is simple and sincere: to bring together Londoners and refugees for tasty food and crowd-pleasing movies.

Being a major fan of both of those things, I pop down to its monthly home and HQ to one of the night’s key supporters, Amnesty International in Shoreditch, for a screening of ‘Star Wars’ spin-off ‘Rogue One’. When the Death Star plans have been safely stolen and the sun has gone down, the attendees get stuck into a special iftar menu to break the Ramadan fast.

Among the nationalities represented are Afghans, Iranians, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Ivorians – all refugees, asylum seekers or migrants – as well as a fair few locals. ‘We noticed that once refugees get here they become isolated,’ says Ahmed. ‘The PTSD and trauma kicks in because their adrenaline rush goes down. So we wanted this to be an evening for people to get to know each other.’ For most, the food is a slice of home comfort. There’s mouthwatering hamli, a sautéed spinach dish from Eritrea; yassa, a spicy chicken stew from Senegal; and crispy sambusa pastries from Syria. At the end of the buffet is a salver of baba ganoush big enough to have its own shipping lanes.

Riz Ahmed, a star of the film, has pitched up with his mum and sister. He’s here for a Q&A but happily helps out the chefs and chats with all-comers. ‘Being able to be part of initiatives like this stays with me,’ he says. ‘It brings people from so many different backgrounds together.’

Riz Ahmed helping out with the food.

Welcome’s model means that for every ticket sold, a refugee attends for free. I get chatting to one of the regulars, Juliana Simon, a St Lucian who now lives in Shoreditch. ‘The food and cinema is great, but it’s the atmosphere that brings me back,’ she says. ‘It’s brilliant.’ It is: a buzzing example of community cinema breaking down barriers. Save your appetite and give it a go.

‘Soufra’ screens at Welcome Cinema + Kitchen on Thu Jun 20, 6pm. £25. Head to www.welcomepresents.com for details.

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