‘We have to support each other. Equality isn’t here yet!’

When better than International Woman’s Day to meet Kemi Akinola, a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others? She spoke to Simone Richardson

portrait of woman
Kemi Akinola © The Peoples Kitchen

“I am blessed to have an office in central Brixton which enables me and my team to mix with the other incredible charitable organisations in the area,” says Kemi Akinola, director of the People’s Kitchen.

“Learning from each other enables us to develop new skills and partnerships.

“Brixton is a place to connect with so many people and cultures and that connective spirit is a key part of The People’s Kitchen.”

With Grenadian and Nigerian roots, Kemi’s journey from Birmingham to Brixton began at a young age.

Now living in South London and working in Brixton, she feels it is her home – although, as a charity worker, she cannot afford to live in Brixton.

She initially aimed for architecture as her career, but a car accident turned her on a different direction – retraining as a youth worker working with charities and community organisations, before “branching out to her own ventures”.

Her interest in food comfort was evident throughout her journey. She would get young people to open up and talk “over a cheeky Nando’s”.

woman in chef uniform
Kemi in the kitchen

In 2013 Kemi launched Be Enriched – a community canteen in South London. Her work focused on engaging young people.

She started a community sit-down lunch in Tooting, “where I recruited young people at risk, young offenders and young people on probation to cook for the wider community, giving them the opportunity to learn new skills, improve their empathy and connect with older generations.”

Expanding on her Brixton connection, Kemi says: “I have been working in Brixton since 2015, some of my best mates live here and our HQ is in central Brixton.

“Of course, I have socialised in the area a lot. I’d love to live in Brixton – But just can’t afford it on a charity salary. I’ve always invested as much as possible back into the company.”

Founded in 2011 by a women’s collective, The Brixton People’s Kitchen is now based in North Lambeth and supports people and community learning by using food as a mechanism to bring people together.

Kemi, appointed director in 2015, has transformed the project.

It currently provides food supplies to 340 households, with a soon-to-launch weekly bike service for an additional 60 households.

The need for such a service is evidenced by last year’s 137% increase in food bank usage in the area.

The current project and community shop provide as many people as possible with access to diverse, nutritious and affordable foods, Kemi says.

Ensuring healthy, nutritious, diverse food sources is the focus of the food force to “bring people together”.

Kemi is responsible for the growth and development of the project. “I work with various groups in the community to help make this a reality.”

She has “always tried to be a good role model for others”, so she says she is honoured to be thought of as the subject for an International Women’s Day interview.

“It’s been a hard, long struggle to get where I am right now, especially as a Black woman from a working class background,” she says.

“I’ve never relied on anyone to help me – which in hindsight would have been good.

“I think I have a lot of experience to share with the next generation of women who want to start out and I’m always happy to do this.

“We have to support each other. Equality isn’t right here yet!”

For more information on The People’s Kitchen, which has an office in International House, visit its website, or follow @BrixtonPK on Instagram and Twitter.