Breaking Bread in the East End

Disparate neighbours. United by food.

Poplar is described by Tower Hamlets council as an area of ‘hyper diversity’. Although flanked by Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park, Poplar itself is a deprived area; it ranks highest in the UK for income deprivation affecting under 18s and older people. This contrast of extreme wealth and poverty tends to dominate conversations about the East End. In areas where social housing has traditionally dominated, shiny new high-rises stand out as symbols of a changing economy and community. This is often seen as a divisive change, but diversity in a city is to be expected and welcomed.

There are conversations to be had about regeneration, change, power and equality between these unlikely neighbours and we believe that a good place to start is getting to know each other over that great leveler: grub.

The very different neighbourhoods of Poplar and Canary Wharf.

The very different neighbourhoods of Poplar and Canary Wharf.

Breaking Bread was a popup community banquet produced by the 2016 Fellows in under 24 hours. The idea was to bring ordinary people together to get into conversation with each other and build bridges between seemingly disparate communities.

Bread was broken around 6.30pm on Friday night in an old Shoe World shop in Chrisp Street Market. Over 100 people came through the doors, peering through the parasols and fairy lights with intrigue at how the dilapidated shop had been transformed for the evening.

The guests represented the mix of people living in Poplar. There were families and older people, different nationalities and faiths, Canary Wharf professionals and people currently reliant on Food Banks, all sat side-by-side enjoying the food. News had spread fast – during the meal, passersby stopped to look and others gathered to have food outside on the pavement. One man was informed of the event by his daughter who, herself living in Paris, stumbled upon it on twitter.

It was really important to us that the event was open to all, irrespective of income. Thanks to the many generous businesses who donated to our event, we were able to offer a three course dinner for just £2, with raffle tickets included. People were impressed, with one woman needing to persuade her friend on the phone that it wasn’t too good to be true. “Look, I’ll send you a photo if you don’t believe me! It’s actually £2. We’ve got to go!” And lo and behold, she and her friend joined us that evening.

Our menu saluted the different cultures that are associated with the East End: from Jewish breads donated by local bakeries and a Bengali curry to a traditional bread and butter pudding.


A note given to us by one of the guests as we were packing up the next day.

We were overwhelmed by the open-handed and communitarian nature of East London businesses. The East London Juice Company not only donated some juices, but also iced some freshly baked cakes for us on the spot. When we approached Chrisp Street’s very own Curry Hut for a recipe, the owner CJ volunteered to cook the entire curry for us free of charge. Dusty Knuckle, Sticky Beaks, Muxima, Rinkoff’s and Crate Brewery also threw in some goodies – and Poplar Harca, the Bromley By Bow Centre and the Bow Arts Trust made the whole thing possible with access to great spaces, use of furniture and reliable wifi.

Critical to the event’s success was that the guests who arrived as strangers would leave having exchanged a few words and stories. Seating was communal and bread was laid out to share. We also scattered questions along the table like “What did you eat as a child?” to get people talking and discovering interest in their similarity, or difference, of experience. I heard everything from egg-and-soldiers, to Iranian Lavash bread and Paratha and Daal.

Fundraising wasn’t the event’s objective but, given how much we secured for free, we actually managed to make a few hundred pounds’ profit. We chose to donate the cash to a social enterprise that was in keeping with the theme of the night: The Luminary Bakery sells baked goods in cafés across East London and supports vulnerable women into employment in the process.

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