• Refugee women taking part in a workshop at Bread & Rose. (Bread & Roses / Instagram)
UK company 'Bread and Roses' sell flowers, but they provide something even more beautiful: workshops that teach floristry to refugee women to help them gain fulfilling employment.
By
Chloe Sargeant

27 Jun 2017 - 9:27 AM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2017 - 2:37 PM

“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”

—Rose Schneiderman, 1912

Bread and Roses is a social enterprise based in Hackney in the United Kingdom. 

Created in May of 2016, the company bases its ideals alongside the above quote from union leader and feminist pioneer, Rose Schneiderman, which explains that all working women - including those less privileged - deserve to feel valued and creatively flourish at work (the roses), as well simply working to pay for the basics to survive (the bread).  

Enter Sneh Jani and Olivia Head - two women in their 20s dedicated to giving refugee women the skills, tools and pathways needed to have a life filled with roses in addition to bread that their often low-paying jobs provide.

They began Bread and Roses in order to train refugee women in floristry, offering workshops where the women can develop new skills that will help them gain fulfilling employment and a liveable wage. 

"Women in low-paid jobs are still fighting for their rights," the website reads. "Typically feminine roles such as caring and cleaning are hugely undervalued - and as a result women make up 60 per cent of those earning less than the living wage in the UK.

"Refugee women, who come here with skills but lack English and recognised qualifications, often feel they have no other option but to take up this kind of work."

SBS spoke to Bread and Roses co-founder Sneh Jani, who explains that she and Head simply wanted to give these women a little bit of extra support, so they could find work where they felt valued and empowered.

"We strive to empower women and support them into jobs where they feel valued."

The two entrepreneurs had completely different experiences that led them both to careers working with refugees - Jani learned about the struggles of refugees in the UK while she was an intern with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Berlin at university, and Head learned about the lack of specific support options available to refugees while working at a homeless hostel.

Jani explains the unemployment rate for refugees is six times higher than the UK national average, which is often due to a lack of career development opportunities, and also because many refugees have a lower level of English upon arriving in the UK. She adds that refugee women are even more disadvantaged than refugee men - many of the women have had limited opportunities with education or employment compared to their male counterparts. Some women lack the confidence of working in a country where they do not fluently speak the language, and others are unable to find work that pays well enough to be able to afford childcare. 

"Our mission is simple," says Jani. "We strive to empower women and support them into jobs where they feel valued."

When asked what the biggest issues facing refugee women in the UK currently, Jani explains that the restrictions placed on asylum seekers during the initial process of their claim is a major problem, that ends up with many refugees unemployed and living on a minuscule amount of money.

"The debilitating asylum process in the UK prohibits people seeking asylum from working while they wait for a decision on their claim," Jani tells SBS. "This period of waiting can take many years and during this time both men and women are subjected to living off less than £5 a day and cannot earn a living to improve their living conditions."

However, even those who do gain asylum seeker status are often unable to find work, mostly due to limited opportunities and the ever-growing anti-immigration sentiment in the UK.

While floristry may seem like a somewhat niche avenue of training for future employment, arranging flowers is just a small part of what women learn. Jani says that the workshops act as a safe and comfortable community group, where the women can practice their creativity, make friends, gain confidence, and develop their English skills. They also learn CV writing, and expand their understanding of the UK job market and how to enter it. 

Jani says that floristry is creative yet practical skill that happens to boost mental health: "Floristry is not only a practical skill but has positive effects on emotional well-being too. It offers the women the opportunity to be creative, express themselves and have fun."

The company's sales are going well - the group sells the bunches made by the refugee women in various locations around London in order to raise awareness and to continue the workshops' funding.

"Selling our bouquets to Londoners and organisations in the city also enables us to raise awareness of the challenges facing the women we support through sharing their stories which we are passionate about," says Jani.

Despite only being around for just over a year, Jani tells SBS that Bread and Roses have had over 50 women come to their workshops, and they've received "wholly positive" feedback, with many of the refugee women saying the training gave them hope and made them feel useful, and also made them feel welcome in the country.

Bread and Roses floral arrangements are available in various locations around London, and they also launched their UK delivery service on World Refugee Day on June 20 this year.

Bread and Roses' images are shot by Lily Betrand Webb.