The Hackney Somali café that gave 6,000 food parcels to struggling families in lockdown

3 min read

The East London café helps everyone from the homeless to families in overcrowded housing

In Hackney, cafe’s nowadays are known more for their avocado on toast than anything else.

The community feel is somewhat lacking thanks to gentrification.

But there’s one café that’s got community at the heart of what they do.

Coffee Afrique offers people of colour (POC) a safe space where they are always welcome.

Starting in 2018 in Pembury Estate, Hackney, they were the first-ever Somali crisis café. They provided support for Somali women, homeless people, those fleeing domestic violence and those battling addiction.

“It became clear that there weren’t many services for minoritized communities,” founder Abdi Hassan told MyLondon.

“So we wanted to provide a space that was inclusive and could offer culturally competent care.”

When Abdi, 37, founded the café alongside his sister, they realised the importance of having a crisis café for their community.

He worked as an accountant before taking up the role full time as an Operations Manager for Coffee Afrique.

“I felt very unfulfilled as an accountant – I felt I could impact local communities that would create hyperlocal change,” he continued.

As Coffee Afrique grew, Abdi realised that there was more to be done.

From supporting Somali women, they grew into providing mental health support, working with young black men to take them off the street and into employability and working with Somali citizens who may be shunned for being LBGT.

Their focus now became three things – mental health, activism, enterprise development as well as helping out the homeless.

“People came to us because we were providing a space that was run by people with the same experiences,” he added.

With the number of youth centres closed in London over the past 10 years, this space provides people with an opportunity to feel safe.

In 2019-20, through the pandemic, they provided over 6,000 food parcels for people in the community and collected 1,698 medical parcels for those shielding.

They also spoke up for those in poor housing conditions and applied pressure on councils and MPs to do more.

Abdi said: “What became clear is that our communities of colour had deep levels of inequality in regards to housing, mental health and income.

“It is in us to fight for our community, in a clean way but to genuinely create good trouble and necessary noise. We have to be persistent to get change. That is why we do it”.

The work is tiring for Abdi but he understands the importance: “If we don’t keep creating the noise, who is going to help the mum raising a child in an overcrowded house?”

Now, along with the Pembury Estate café, Coffee Afrique has grown in size.

They have safe spaces in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Harrow and in the near future in Haringey and Enfield.

All these spaces provide different support systems. One is for victims of domestic violence, one for people battling addiction and one for young black boys to not be on the street.

Abdi also works with other community support groups like Sistah Space, who do great work highlighting the injustices women of colour face.

Ultimately, Abdi hopes to be able to give the community spaces back to the people for them to run on their own..

He said: “I know in my heart I could go back to corporate and collect my money but I know our people need that noise to be made.

“We shouldn’t exist but we are needed.”

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