Food: the great unifier

Food: the great unifier

by Tim Burton-Jones

In a city of over a million people there are, in Birmingham, around one hundred different ethnicities represented. Within that there are around half a million Christians, nearly five thousand Buddhists, twenty-two thousand Hindus, over two thousand Jews, over two hundred and thirty thousand Muslims, thirty two thousand Sikhs, and over two hundred thousand with no religion.

To celebrate this wonderful diversity in England’s second city, the Bournville Village Trust, alongside the Bordesley Village Community Association (BVCA), have put together Birmingham’s first ever city cook book using a grant from Near Neighbours.

The book aims to reflect the fantastic diversity of Birmingham by incorporating recipes from local people of different ethnicities and will feature twenty mouth-watering recipes. Amongst these twenty recipes will be dishes from Algeria, Afghanistan, the Caribbean, China, England, Gambia, Ireland, India, and Pakistan.

However, this book is more than just the fantastic recipes it contains. It is about the people behind the recipes. Individuals representing this diverse array of nationalities have been working on this project together. They have cooked and eaten alongside one another and their families have had the chance to get to know each other.

Already the book has received wide-spread interest from within Birmingham. On Thursday, some of the chefs and employees from the Bournville Village Trust & BVCA appeared on BBC West Midlands Radio before they were visited by BBC Midlands Today who filmed the chefs cooking and eating together for the 6:30 news.

I went along to see if I could get a glimpse of the book in the making whilst the BBC cameras were there. I have to say, I loved it!


I think it goes without saying that the food was incredible. Some of the highlights include the Lamb Benachin Jollof Rice from Gambia, the homemade Fish & Chips (England, of course!) and a spicy Algerian Lamb sausage called Mergez. I also tried some sweet food called Chumchum and Gulab Jamun; although I’m not entirely sure what they were, I can confirm that they are incredible!


But, more importantly, it was fantastic to see these local people cooking together, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing each other’s food. Priyanka told the BBC how she had loved learning about the cultures of the other people she had been cooking with. Other contributors expressed to me that they loved trying all the different food on offer, as well as being able to make new friends amongst people from different nationalities.

Food is a great unifier because it is so universally loved, but also respects diversity as each nationality has something new (and delicious) to bring. The Bournville Village Trust & BVCA at Phoenix Hall have done a fantastic job of utilising food in this respect and have brought together a huge array of different families in this celebration of what is great about Birmingham and, by proxy, what is great about England.

The cook book has been funded by a grant from the Near Neighbours Small Grant Fund and Shabnam Mughal ( Development Officer / Centre Manager), who is managing the project, is doing excellent work with the money we awarded them. Whilst they have been conscious to celebrate both food and Birmingham, they have also focused intently on bringing people together through this cook book and their success on all fronts speaks of money well spent.

When I spoke to Shabnam she told me, "For the first time ever Birmingham will have its own cook book by people from the different cultures, religions and ethnicities that make up our fantastic city. Not only is it going to be packed full of delicious dishes but the process of developing the book and a shared love of cooking is bringing neighbours together to build new relationships and work together.

"If this is a success we are looking at publishing other things in the future which can bring people together through their love of different subject matters, giving a people a sense of ownership and community cohesion. This couldn't have happened without the support of Near Neighbours Funding and Bournville Village Trust, we look forward to the launch of the book on the 24th of October!"

The book is due to be released at a launch event at the Phoenix Hall in Bordesley Village on the 24th of October. You will be able to pre-order now at a reduced rate or buy the book on the day and also know that all the profits will go straight back into the fantastic community work that the Bournville Village Trust are doing at Phoenix Hall in Bordesley Village.

If you are interested in finding out more about how you can get a copy of the book, send me an email

Click here to see more pics from the day.

Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 26 August 2015