Food has a wonderful way of bringing people together and creating a sense of community. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Coexist Community Kitchen (CCK) in Bristol’s lively borough of Easton. Tucked away in a side street near St Mark’s Road, which is famed for its international cuisine, festivals and general hustle and bustle, the cookery school is a place where the door is always open and everyone has a seat at the table.

Founded in 2012, the Coexist Community Kitchen is a not-for-profit whose mission is to empower individuals who face social, economic and cultural barriers. It works to restore people’s confidence, build connections and create joy through food by offering a safe and inclusive space for individuals to learn new skills, socialise and connect with others.

Heading up the team is Co-Founder Ari Cantwell, who welcomes me into the kitchen with a warmth and openness that feels somewhat contagious. After a quick tour of the well-equipped kitchen, we sit down at a large rustic dining table with a cup of tea and a soft Italian almond biscuit called a ‘ricciarelli’, made during a workshop held earlier that day.

'All over the world, eating is a central part of life.' Ari explains. 'Food and customs of course differ, but that core coming together of people to share time with each other is fundamental to how we connect as humans. All too often though, individuals and families are forced into poverty and food stops being about health and enjoyment and instead becomes fuel for survival. For others, the relationship with food is lost because they are working long hours and become time-poor, relying on convenience over connection. But it’s that connection that is so powerful. Engaging with others, trying something new, sharing your own knowledge, overcoming self-doubt. It’s simple, but effective and it’s what makes our work so incredibly rewarding.'

Great British Life:  Claudia talking to visitors. Photo: Coexist Community Kitchen Claudia talking to visitors. Photo: Coexist Community Kitchen

During the past decade, Ari and her team of experienced chefs and tutors have formed lasting partnerships with many of Bristol’s social support services. Working collaboratively, the Coexist Kitchen facilitates sessions and courses that support individuals challenged with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, those seeking refuge or asylum, as well as supporting vulnerable young people with organisations like the Prince’s Trust. Over the course of a year, the school runs more than 300 practical outreach sessions, supporting thousands of people across Bristol. They also run a free Community Meals service each week where fresh fruit, veg and other pantry staples donated via foodbanks is transformed into hundreds of nutritious meals. These are then picked up by various individuals and families in the community that are struggling to put food on the table.

Running all these activities however, doesn’t come for free, and generating the funds to support this work is always front and centre in the minds of the team who run the Kitchen. Claudia Poligioni, Kitchen Co-ordinator and Director at CCK says: 'We operate as a Community Interest Company, or ‘CIC’, which means we are driven by purpose, not profit. But that means it is down to us to generate funds that can cover the costs of our outreach work, which is offered free-at-point-of-access. So we’re always thinking of new and creative ways to raise funds and also engage with the wider community. One of the main ways we do this is by running cooking workshops that are open to the public. We have really varied skills within the team, so we can teach anything from making fresh pasta from scratch, or filleting fish to pickling and fermenting. We also organise larger one-off events like a seasonal feast, cater weddings, organise and run team building days, rent out the kitchen and run a fundraiser every Winter.'

The team kindly invited me along to a couple of workshops they were running that week to give me a flavour of what they do. The first was a fascinating three-hour cooking class with Chef Kelly, learning how to make flavourful savoury broths and signature ramen noodles to go with them. After a quick group meet and greet, we were straight into the kitchen. Watching and listening carefully as Kelly let us in on the secrets to making the perfect Japanese dashi, stopping at intervals to let us prepare our own broths in the same way. We then started work on the noodles. Surprisingly simple to make with just three ingredients, but as I quickly learnt, somewhat harder to perfect your kneading technique! The trick is to keep the dough unnervingly dry, so the noodles will sit in the liquor without soaking up all your soupy goodness. After a few failed attempts through the pasta maker, it was wildly satisfying to wind through a whole plate of noodles before sitting around the table with my fellow chefs to eat the fruits of our labour. Complete with tea-stained eggs, fermented chili sauce and locally sourced pork belly, crackled to perfection by our teacher.

Great British Life: Free loaves for the community. Photo: Coexist Community KitchenFree loaves for the community. Photo: Coexist Community Kitchen

The next event was still centred around food but this time we were gathered in the large dining room to meet an up-and-coming local author called Moses McKenzie, whose debut novel An Olive Grove in Ends was making huge waves amongst critics. The young black British writer took his seat next to Zoe, our host for the evening, and generously delved into the thoughts, feelings and cultural experiences that had led to his first book. The eager audience were enthralled, hanging on his every word with arms shooting up left right and centre as soon as the session was opened up for questions. As the Q&A came to an end, spicy sweet potato soup, herby feta salads and focaccia as soft as a mattress toppers appeared at the table to feed everyone. But it’s what happened next that for me signified what makes the CCK so unique.

Moses stood up from his seat at the front, moving to the middle of the table where he could continue the interesting conversations that had been sparked in the room that evening. And there it was. That simple, but beautiful moment of people sharing food, exchanging knowledge and ideas - feeling undeniably connected. It’s this that makes Coexist more than just a kitchen, and more than just a cooking school. It’s a place where people of all different ages, ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences are welcomed and can come together to find connection. It's a place where a simple hello, or the offer of a cup of tea can turn someone’s day around. Where sharing a family recipe for Lebanese Kibbeh, Sri Lankan curry or Ukrainian dumplings can evoke a sense of home and help someone feel dignified and valued. Food, is not only a source of joy and nourishment, it’s the foundation on which we can build a stronger, healthier, more joyful and more inclusive society.

If you’d like to learn more about the Kitchen or join one of their upcoming cooking classes, head to

You can also make a donation, find out about volunteering opportunities and learn about other services offered by the Kitchen such as wedding catering and corporate team building days.