Coexist Community Kitchen offers a vibrant, welcoming space in central Bristol for people of all ages to find dignity and confidence through cooking.
Coexist Community Kitchen (CKK) is founded upon the belief that food is our simplest and easiest tool to support each other and build a stronger, healthier, and more joyful society. Since 2012, the CKK team has been using food as a vehicle to work with people who experience social marginalisation in Bristol.
CKK started as a small pop-up food project and is now home to a busy cookery school which works with thousands of people across Bristol in partnership with a network of drug and alcohol services, mental health organisations, and refugee and asylum seeker groups. Through the pandemic they also ran a free food provision service, which will transition into a weekly, in-person community meal event since restrictions eased. They raise revenue to resource this work through public classes, commercial catering, and space hire.
For its first seven years, CKK was hosted in a DIY arts space called Hamilton House. In 2018, CKK and the rest of the tenants were evicted so that the building could be developed. They fought the eviction hard, but ultimately lost, and in 2019 they relocated to a new space and incorporated as an independent social enterprise.
CKK has a six person staff team, five of whom are under 35, along with a large, intergenerational roster of volunteers. The organisation generally works with young people who are experiencing specific social issues, like young carers, and is currently working with The Prince’s Trust on a programme for young people struggling in school. Its focus on intersectionality and inclusion guides its engagement with young people, explains Director Ari Cantwell (age 34): “25 year olds who come here are completely different to each other. I’m much more interested in their lives, worlds, and experiences than their age – it’s this intersectionality which is important. There is such a wide range of power and privilege within an age group. We try and treat all people with humanity.”
Ari grew up in Wales and moved to Bristol aged 21. After living in the city for a couple of years, she started volunteering at CKK when it was part of Hamilton House, a multi-purpose, community hub which was home to multiple community groups, a cafe, low cost wellbeing services, music and dance lessons and much more. Alongside working in kitchens elsewhere, she took on and gradually grew her paid hours with CKK, until she went full-time as the Director in 2020.
Ari’s passion and commitment for the organisation was motivated through fighting the eviction which built up a committed group of supporters. She reflects on the eviction and the move to new premises as the catalyst to rebuild a better, bigger community business, “Until the eviction, I felt like I could step away, but the threat galvanised us as a community, and made me want to stay. Ultimately, community is about longevity. It’s when you connect with people, learn through people, and feel like you have a shared home over time. The kitchen is now central to my identity, and my community is more diverse and broad because of the kitchen.”
For Ari, food is the ideal vehicle for building a sustainable community because it is so immediate – cooking leads to sharing, eating and socialising, whatever the age of the people around the table. Moving forward, Ari wants to find better ways to bring people together from CKK’s different programmes and groups. Although the pandemic meant some of the casual interactions were limited between CKK’s community, they are now working on rebuilding intergenerational social connections and experiences.