Care4Calais cake sale

Rhiannon raises money for Care4Calais whilst creating a community spirit in her street.

‘Keep to yourself. Avoid eye contact. Above all else, do not even think about making conversation.’ These golden rules to getting by in London can come as quite clichéd. There are of course exceptions to the rules (usually involving football and Friday nights) but, as newcomers to the capital will find, they are clichés which often ring true…

I moved to the East End of London in July 2020. I loved spending many a lockdown afternoon exploring the area, discovering its rich history, sampling its culinary favourites from Jewish beigels to Bangladeshi curries (I haven’t quite dared jellied eels). As I got to know the East End and its people a bit more, I began to really appreciate its unique identity and spirit. The area however, is not without its tensions. It lies in the contrasting borough of Tower Hamlets which has the highest rate of child poverty in the country,[1] all while the banking giants of Canary Wharf loom over, making billions. Despite the East End’s close-knit communities and long tradition of welcoming strangers, the sense of ‘togetherness’ in the area has surely dwindled. (…)


It was around this time that the political and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan began to rapidly escalate. Horrifying images played out on the news of Afghanis attempting to flee their country, terrified of the consequences if they stayed. Charities working with refugees put out urgent appeals for donations in anticipation of a major stretch of their limited resources. Individuals and families were faced with losing all sense of community as they endured gruelling journeys to unfamiliar countries. A charity I knew of, Care4Calais, had an emergency appeal to raise funds for very practical items such as winter coats, children’s clothing and mobile phones. There was only so much I could contribute as an individual so I thought it could be great if my local community became involved.

After a bit of thought, I decided to put on a cake sale in my street. It would give people the chance to say hello to their neighbours all while contributing to an important cause. So I began making posters to stick up in the street and writing my ingredients list. The scenes in my shared house on the day of the sale were quite hectic: there were about 60 choc-chip cookies cooling on the dining table; banana breads precariously stacked on top of each other; a mountain of washing up cluttered the side and somehow, icing sugar coated nearly every surface. I was starting to get a little bit nervous and wondered if anyone would turn up.

The big day

I needn’t have worried, the first neighbour turned up at 3 o’clock on the dot, she lives at the other end of the street and so I had not seen her before. She bought some chocolate cake and we exchanged tips on the best plants for our window boxes. Soon after, came a young mum from opposite with her two kids – they went for the Victoria sponge. We spoke about their favourite cakes and how they’re getting on at school. Then came Pat, she’s a bit of a local legend, an elderly lady who often sits outside her house on a warm evening and goes for regular walks up and down the street. A few of the neighbours even refer to her as ‘Nan’. I had waved to her before, but it was nice to have a proper chat and find out about what the area was like in the 60s. A short while later, the local Amazon delivery driver popped by in between deliveries to buy four slices of banana bread for his daughters. Throughout the afternoon, I met so many different neighbours and learnt so many new names. Everyone who came to the sale, stopped to chat and find out about, not just Care4Calais, but about each other.


In the days that followed, the community spirit continued to flourish. People talked on the street WhatsApp group about how tasty the cakes were and how pleased they were with the fundraising total. My next door neighbour came round to ask for the gluten-free cake recipe. She’s a student from Cyprus and said ‘I see you every day through the window but it’s so nice to actually chat to you.’

Instead of shouting ‘Delivery!’ through the letter box and rushing off, the delivery driver stopped to say how his daughters had really enjoyed the cake and that it had kept him going during his shift. I even got invited to a neighbour’s Shrek-themed party (that’s a story for another day!)

This experience confirmed and strengthened my belief in the importance of community spirit for our wellbeing and for society at large. It’s by no means perfect, but I’m pleased that in this little pocket of the East End, neighbours will smile and say hello. In reflecting on what Afghanis fleeing their country have left behind, I hope that communities in the UK can offer a tiny bit of comfort through sharing that spirit.

published by New City magazine 

[1] Tower Hamlets Council (2021) London Borough of Tower Hamlets: Poverty Review