With a canalside setting off the Kingsland Road, an adjoining archway with a dazzling art studio and a kitchen serving up excellent Moroccan tagine, you could mistake this for the latest hip Hackney enterprise. But Headway East London is a day centre for people with acquired brain injuries, the result of strokes, accidents or physical attacks. Members come from fourteen boroughs to eat, socialise, receive physical therapy, make art and tell their stories with the help of a writer in residence.
The chef at the project is Kate de Syllas, who has also cooked at the Lumen Café and A Little of What You Fancy. A community gardener and mother, Kate ditched unsociable restaurant hours for a project she is passionate about. The cooking, like everything else at Headway, is creative. It depends on what is available from the FareShare project and donors such as Leila’s Shop, and it is partly based on what the members would like to cook and eat. Headway’s lovely recipe book, A Meal to Remember, has recipes from members’ home countries, including Fiji, French Guiana and Barbados.
A Renaissance woman who has just contributed chapters on ‘Bread’ and ‘Waste’ to This Is Not a Book About Gavin Turk, Kate spent time as a chef in north Africa. When Eat Hackney visited she had taken a delivery of some organic halal lamb from FareShare which, with the help of Headway members Keith and Keith (calm presences in the kitchen) and volunteer Jade, she cooked up into tagine with seven vegetables, chickpeas and couscous. Lunch is served to staff, volunteers and members for a minimal charge, and neighbours from businesses in the adjacent railway arches can pop in to buy a bargain gourmet meal.
Headway will soon be selling tickets for a supper club on July 25, with pizzas from their wood oven and gelato. Visitors can meet staff and members, and see works created in the art room. To find out about issues surrounding brain injury, read some members’ life stories.