Negat Hussein may not be a name you are familiar with, but her contribution to the city’s diverse culture and communities is second to none. Since moving to Bristol 16 years ago she has been on a mission to empower refugee communities through the power of food.
Negat’s heritage has had a huge influence on her work. Originally from Eritrea, she moved to Sweden when she was 5, and to the UK when she was 19. She works closely with Refugee Women of Bristol (RWoB), the city’s only organisation that reaches out to woman from the refugee and asylum-seeker community, run by these very women. At the RWoB she holds a lunch club and alongside this she works with 91 Ways. If that’s not enough she also has her own catering company Food with a Twist, serving up Middle Eastern and East African food and working with volunteers who can share their cooking skills whilst learning how to run a catering company.
Throughout Negat’s work she uses food as a powerful tool to connect people across the city who might otherwise be isolated. Refugees often arrive with few English language skills, but what they do have are excellent cooking skills. Cooking and sharing food in the communities these women are from is a part of daily life and by cooking together in Bristol these women are able to come together, share stories and feel appreciated. The evocative nature of food can transport them back to their own homeland, instantly making them feel relaxed and comfortable. And it is this attachment between food and humanity that Negat is harnessing, using it to break down social barriers and integrate communities in Bristol.
This is what Bristol Food Connections is all about. Negat is a big supporter of the festival and has taken part in recent years. ‘‘What I like about it is it’s not just a big festival. It gives people the opportunity to take part in different areas of the city. It brings people together.” Despite the richness of Bristol’s diverse communities and neighbourhoods, Negat recognises that there are many areas people haven’t been to, but through Food Connections there is a chance to change that.
The very nature of the festival this year, with its focus on community-led events across the city, means there is a wider opportunity for everyone to get involved, discover different areas and meet new people. She will be taking the women she works with at the RWoB to the events in Hartcliffe where she hopes they can exchange ideas and even become friends.
As Negat says, ‘Whatever we do in life, we are all connected by food’
Photo by Jon Craig taken at a 91 Ways event.