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How a supper club is helping unite migrant women - through the power of dumplings

dumplings hero.jpg

The doughy deliciousness of dumplings is being used to bring together migrant women through a combination of cooking and English language lessons.

Innovative supper club Heart and Parcel in Manchester dispenses with a typical community centre set-up of tables, chair and whiteboards and teaches English through cookery classes.

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Women from a diverse range of communities across the region meet up and cook dumplings – a universal comfort food – in the way they were taught growing up, while picking up language skills in the process. The spoils are then sold at markets and at monthly supper clubs.

Karolina Koscien, who grew up in Poland and Clare Courtney, who spent her childhood in Hong Kong, founded the club after meeting at a French restaurant in the city seven years ago and bonding over their shared love of food.

Dumplings, they say are a “powerful metaphor” for their work.

Karolina & Clare selling Chinese dumplings. Levy Market, Levenshulme

Karolina & Clare selling Chinese dumplings at Levy Market in Levenshulme

“The filling inside dumplings represent the hidden resources and skills women from migrant communities living in Britain today possess that lie untapped and unused,” they write on their website. “Too often are these women’s potential overshadowed by stronger demands for other, more ‘mainstream’ skills.”

And their club isn’t just about offering a collaborative, relaxed and nurturing environment – that dry community centre class set-up is one that’s becoming a more infrequent option in their area. The government has slashed funds for English classes, while “criticising migrant communities, specifically Muslim women for not learning English and therefore not integrating,” the pair explain.

They say the project opposes the view of migrant women as “a problem that needs to be fixed”.

“We want them to be valued on their wealth of previous experiences and wisdom, rather than be assessed and judged by the language skills that they have not yet acquired”.


Spicy or sweet, dumplings bring people together

The free classes have been running since 2015, when the pair were given a £500 grant. It now has £4,000 in funding to become a social enterprise and as well as market stalls, it has taught 20 women, from countries including Syria, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt. to run their own supper clubs.

Read more: Wine makes us feel emotional before we’ve even opened the bottle, says new research

One member, Laila Cheikhmousa, fled war-torn Syria with her husband and four children in 2014 for Salford. One of her children is deaf and her husband is out of work while he learns English, The Guardian reports, but Cheikhmousa now has her own business selling shish barak (meat dumplings in yoghurt sauce), stuffed vine leaves, kibbeh and tabbouleh.

Here’s hoping it becomes a nationwide success.

Images: Heart and Parcel, iStock


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