Bread and Roses: helping refugee women blossom

Meet two London women supporting refugee and asylum-seeking women to build skills and confidence through floristry

Sneh Jani co-founded Bread and Roses after learning about the struggles of refugee and asylum-seeking women in the UK

Sneh Jani co-founded Bread and Roses after learning about the struggles of refugee and asylum-seeking women in the UK  © Bread and Roses

“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”

So said Rose Schneiderman, a prominent trade union leader of the early 1900s.

That’s the motto of Bread & Roses, whose founders Sneh Jani and Olivia Head believe in helping refugee women to flourish through training and employment.

Olivia and I both wanted to do something to address the challenges faced by refugee women in the UK

Sneh, 26, interned with UNHCR in Berlin whilst at university, where she began learning about the challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers. Olivia, 23, volunteered at homeless hostels throughout university and met many people who had been forced to flee their home country. The two met whilst on the social innovation fellowship. Together, they formed Bread & Roses.

Women create flower arrangements together at a Bread and Roses workshop

While creating flower arrangements together at Bread and Roses workshops, women have formed strong friendships and found a support network  © Bread and Roses

“Olivia and I both wanted to do something to address the challenges faced by refugee women,” says Sneh.

In the UK, refugees have the right to work, while most asylum applicants are not allowed to work while their application is considered. Some people wait many years to hear the outcome of their asylum claim. Bread & Roses works with women who have refugee status and those still in the asylum process.

“At the start of the session, we have a cup of tea and chat together,” says Sneh. “We then introduce the women to the flowers we’d be using that week, talking about what they’re called and where they grow, then we learn some floristry techniques and make arrangements.”

The bouquets and posies made in the workshops are sold to individuals and organisations. On Sunday March 26th, Bread & Roses host a boutique Mother's Day pop-up shop in Fitzrovia, London.

One woman said the workshops gave her a reason to get up in the morning

At some of the sessions an employment advisor helped the women with CV writing, interview techniques and finding volunteering positions. Many have gone on to find work.

Bread & Roses addresses social and financial issues, as well as restoring the sense of self-worth that some women say they have lost.

Creating flower arrangements

For Mother's Day, women at a Bread and Roses workshop created bouquets to be sold at a pop-up shop in London's Fitzrovia   © Bread and Roses

“Some told us they felt useless, alienated and paralysed,” says Sneh. “Several women have said that the workshops give them a reason to get up in the morning.”

Many of the women suffer from post-traumatic stress or depression as a result of experiencing violence, loss and abuse. Some are also in and out of hospital with physical illnesses.

“In the context of that suffering they say Bread & Roses gives them some pleasure in their week. It’s a community, many lovely friendships have been formed here,” Sneh explains.

The dream for  Bread & Roses is to be able to provide employment opportunities through floristry for women who have the right to work, and emotional support and sense of purpose for those who don’t.

If we support refugee and asylum-seeking women we can benefit as an economy and as a society

“We believe in supporting refugee women because everything has been taken away from them, they have suffered greatly,” says Sneh. “They are not and do not want to be a burden. If we support them we can benefit as an economy and as a society.”

Bread and Roses arrangement

Many of the refugee and asylum-seeking women who attend the Bread and Roses workshops find that floristry has a therapeutic effect for them, bringing some relief from stress and trauma.  © Bread and Roses

Sneh believes that people can be empowered to help refugees in their own communities.

“When people ask how they can support refugees, I would encourage them to look to what is going on locally and get involved,” says Sneh. “Find local groups through searching online, I’m sure there are people already supporting refugees in your area – and if not, why not try and start something yourself?”

Find out more about Bread & Roses.


This story is part of a series exploring the ways people across the UK are showing refugees and asylum-seekers a #GreatBritishWelcome.