Second in the series (scroll down to Sareta Puri for the first), we have Community Organiser and Writer, Jenny Lau (aka Celestial Peach) and Vicky Sung of Hackney Community Centre. Interviewed both about the community work they do in relation to HCC, after meeting them at the Rangoon Sisters x HCC Dining Club back in July, which was part of a series by Jenny to raise money for the Centre. (All photos taken are from that night🙋🏽‍♀️📸).

Celestial Peach is a platform that tells stories about Chinese identity through the lens of food. Go see her latest exhibition, such amazing work. Jenny also organised a series of Dining clubs in collaboration with Hackney Chinese Centre.  More about it below - and a glimpse inside. Make it down there if you get a chance.


A bit about your Dining Club series.

"The dining club series took place every few months in Hackney Chinese Community Services, featuring food from chefs from diverse backgrounds and experiences - enjoyed at circular tables in the tradition of Chinese family-style dining. It was a fundraising initiative with all proceeds going towards the building of the new community centre. A dilapidated bathhouse in Dalston is currently being renovated into a modern and dynamic multicultural centre with a community kitchen at its heart."

How you first came across HCC  and your involvement with it?

"I first came across HCCS two years ago when I was looking for a place to host my potluck meet-ups. They very generously offered their communal space and we've worked together ever since. I'll help with catering for members' events, and during lockdown I also helped with some fundraising and donation initiatives."

What the Centre means to you, the community, and its value:

As well as the dining club series, Jenny co-curated the Beauty Of Batik pop-up with Steam Room East in August. She also publishes a regular weekly-ish long read on her website, and is celebrating 100 features in this amazing exhibition that you really need to go and see. 

"​​With the help of 41 talented artists, together we have brought to life one answer from each story: 'What Does Home Taste Like?' You can also buy a pack of printed postcards with all profits going to @thelondonccc" .


How you got involved.

"I initially reached out to HCCS to speak with Jabez (current joint manager) as an aspiring journalist; I knew of his activism and campaign work with the Chinese community. (Prior to this - I was I was the venue hire manager at China Exchange, a cultural charity who promotes and make Chinese culture more accessible through events and cultural programmes). I then became a volunteer helping out with setting up the film night programme and completing funding applications. The role of East and Southeast Asian Outreach Worker was vacant at the time, I went for it and I got it! I began working here in November 2020, reaching out to existing ESEA organisations and individuals to further develop services/activities for this community."

What the HCC offers.

"Our most essential service is our advice and support offered in English, Mandarin and Cantonese across social welfare areas such as housing, education, employment and healthcare. The clients we serve have limited command of English and rely on our services to make telephone calls, applications, and appointments on their behalf. Without this service, a portion of the ESEA community would not be able to access public services."

Who founded the Centre?

"We were founded in 1985 to serve the local Chinese community in accessing public services. Our current joint managers are Wing Kong Fung and Jabez Lam (above!) who have backgrounds in finance and community work."

Is it mostly for the people from the older generation?

"The majority of our members are elder, 60+ but we now have a growing younger generation becoming members, collaborators and volunteers. This is an exciting time as increasingly, there is an appetite to interact with other generations, especially youth with elders, to hear their stories and show care and respect. We have had two intergenerational projects. The first was an art and craft workshop, the other is massage sessions. These have attracted new people from different ESEA and non-ESEA backgrounds to share space and explore identity, generation gaps, and migration stories in ESEA people. Recipes, stories about parenthood/loss/relationships have been shared that would have otherwise been lost. We will continue to develop activities that bring different generations and different cultures together."

Near future?

"Hackney Chinese Community Services is now in a transition phase where we are in the process of reconstituting to become a ESEA community centre and relocate to the Old Bath Community House 12-14 Englefield Road London N1 4LS which is a 6,000 square foot space with a community garden. The idea is that this will be a shared community space for ESEA, of course all communities are welcome to join, with advice services, community activities, co-working spaces, hall hire, lunch club and pop-ups. It will be cross-community and multi-generational."

Other events you offer?

"As well as the Dining Clubs, we hold monthly film nights, free massage demonstrations 10:15-11:00 every Friday guided by a holistic therapist. The idea of these is for participants to learn how to massage others and interact and respect other generations. Book club is held on the first Thursday of the month, 6:30pm-8pm, a free event to discuss ESEA authors and stories. There are tai chi classes every Saturday 12-1pm and lion dance practice 1-4pm, £5 per tai chi class and the lion dance practice is free. Lastly we have free breathing and movement sessions 5:30-6pm every Wednesday in August led by a community yoga facilitator!"

Impact of COVID?

How people can support you!

"If you'd like to get involved in our journey and support us, please donate, fundraise, share our content or volunteer with us! Volunteer email: volunteerhccs@gmail.com, or donate here."

What the Dining Club with Rangoon Sisters meant for HCC?

"It meant firstly that East and Southeast Asian cuisine was enjoyed, celebrated and shared. Rangoon Sisters were kind enough to choose us to fundraise for and we really appreciate the support. We have welcomed new faces to the space and the collaborative team spirit is something we always encourage."

Slide show from the Rangoon Sisters Dining Club below - and you can see more, and meet Emily and Amy (above) in this photo essay!

Next up...

The first in a series of mini interviews - with some Women in Food who have inspired me over the past year in small and big ways. Either met them on-ground, or worked alongside; sometimes the best way!

Relationships, deep connections, evolving through conversations and the spaces you find yourself in are one of the most valuable things, I'm learning; in a world too fast - we may not be able to have a dedicated mentor or guru like old wisdoms advise, but we can find mentors collectively - guide each other, and take the time to listen.

At a time where 'entrepreneur', 'the gig economy' and 'going freelance' can often be overly celebrated perhaps we need to recognise that 'doing what you love' is not always the easy way out or something people have chosen. Maybe it's an act of resistance to grow new spaces for change, beauty and true meaning - not just for themselves but for others - outside of capitalist systems.

First up - Sareta Puri, "Chef, Writer and many other things". Met Sareta in the street food world a few years ago and, over the last 6 months, got to know each other at Made in Hackney. Sareta was Head Chef there, has been involved in the community for about four years and was part of the original team to set up the Community Meal Service in April 2020.

" I suppose I’ve learnt through practice, observation and awareness of what I’ve experienced and chimed with. I haven’t come from a traditional kitchen route, so have used my previous skills as a leader  and manager in Charity and Education roles to transfer to this setting" - Sareta Puri

The questions below are around leadership, cutting through the noise and staying grounded as you make your way. Sareta is one of the most incredible leaders I've met, in a soft but strong way and lucky to have learnt under her watchful gaze. The hope is to share some of that (with some photos along the way)... 

On Leadership.

"There’s a difference between 'management' and 'leadership' and I’ve always aspired to demonstrate effective leadership as that’s what makes a difference to people. I think I lead in a personable way. I’m driven by my values and ethics which I hope then transpires through how I work with people. I believe everyone is equal and want themselves to feel valid, heard and respected in my kitchen - or anywhere - whilst also appreciating the need for direction and structure". 

"I’m currently doing a leadership course through a brilliant organisation called Remarkable Women. I signed up more to be a leader of my own life and I genuinely think if you can nail that then you’re going to be able to lead people more effectively". 

On Learning.

I’m a self-taught Chef; it’s something I learnt along the way. I used to think you had to go to Culinary School or be trained under certain people to be called one but actually, like anything in life, we all come to it in a way that works for us.  My dad was  a Chef and he inspired me, as did seeing the power of food to connect people.

Openness and inclusivity is something I tried to create in the kitchen and in any other space I work in. At the end of the day, we all learn by doing, whether that’s someone sitting you down in a classroom and telling you something or you picking up a pen and paper, it’s the experience that matters, and you can enrich that in so many ways"

On Staying Focused. 

"Having a clear understanding of what I’m doing and why has had the largest impact for me this year. Through my leadership course, I set a life mission - seems a bit scary! - but if you have a core intention of what everything in your wider life is leading towards then you stay more focused"

"This doesn’t need to be specific like being the CEO of a business by 45. Mine is to make the world a more fair and equal place; therefore every small thing I do points to that - like working on a community food project, educating through writing about veganism and animal advocacy, working on resources around diversity and discrimination, and supporting small ethical businesses to grow. My portfolio of work might seem random to some but it makes sense to me and the impact I want to have on the world. That's the most important thing".

On Success.

"Success is really hard to define and I think it should be very personal. We can spend too long comparing ourselves to other people, or looking at stereotypical definitions of success (like mortgages, having children, career pay), but for me it comes back to the mission thing. I know that I’m being successful if I’m able to meet any part of my mission; if I’m inspiring or connecting with other people. That could be through making a meal, publishing a piece of work, creating a new recipe. I stay focused through bringing myself back to what it is I'm doing and why. At the end of the day, you're in control of your own life and your own success".

On Future.

"I'm off to (currently in) Sri Lanka for a month! To take stock and bounce back into 2022 to continue working on my mission. I realised that after a very full on - and rewarding - 18 months, I need to reset. 

I’m also about halfway through a diploma in Ayurveda Lifestyle and Nutrition so want to focus my energies on that and see how I can make connections between that, my yoga practice, and cooking.

Cooking-wise, I have a few small  projects lined up including a residency and catering - can’t say too much more about those atm! Plus various classes, cook-a-longs and definitely more community-focused work".

Coming Soon...

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