Game of Thrones star, Maisie Williams has shared the “fear and isolation” she once felt due to going hungry before her breakout role. The Bristol-born actress has become an ambassador for the MAZI project, a Bedminster community interest company (CIC) distributing meals to disadvantaged young people across the city.
A study published by Centrepoint suggests just under a third, 30%, of young people, aged between 18-25, “often go without food for a whole day due to lack of money”. Twenty-five-year-old Maisie explained how she had not publicly spoken about this time during her upbringing, when she and her family were fleeing domestic violence. They left their family home with nothing. Maisie later relied on the support of Barnardos charity.
Ms Williams said: “Food holds so much power. So, when you don’t have it, don’t have enough of it, or don’t experience the enrichment that food brings, you are faced with not only hunger but also detachment, fear and isolation. I’ve been there. I’ve felt this. I understand the impact it has on your self-worth.
“I’ve never talked publicly about this before, but I had a lot of support from Barnardos when I was growing up. They helped me to learn and connect with thoughts and emotions that I’d suppressed for so long. It had an incredible transformational impact on me. My fear dissipated; my sense of self-started rising. I took a dance class shortly after, which led to auditions, my role in Game of Thrones and everything else that’s come since. The impact that a little nurture, time and care can have on young people is genuinely life-changing. That’s what The MAZI Project is providing for the young people in Bristol that they help and that’s why I wanted to get involved.”
The MAZI project is currently supporting hundreds of care leavers, young people recovering from homelessness and young asylum seekers living in supported accommodation.
Speaking of her new role at the MAZI Project, Maisie added: “I have been inspired to talk publicly and be more open about my past after being introduced to The MAZI Project, who work with an increasing number of 16–25-year-olds, many of them in care or refugees, and develop and deliver brilliant, inspiring and healthy meal kits to their doorsteps. This simple act has such a powerful impact.
“What Mel and the team do is incredibly unique and very effective. Through food, taste, experience and new skills, The MAZI Project helps its young people realise they are capable of things they never even considered. One of them was recently accepted into Cambridge University! And another into Bristol University. Another now has a paid job at a restaurant in the city. That’s the extraordinary power that a little nurture can have; it goes a very long way. It’s truly transformational.
“I now feel empowered to talk about my personal experiences through The MAZI Project in the hope that together we can help young people understand their own self-worth through the power of food. And that food helps you grow, helps you connect, helps you know who you are and what you’re capable of. I’m living proof of that.”
The CIC’s founder, Melanie Vaxevanakis estimates 8,800 meals have been packed by her team since it launched during lockdown in 2020. She also revealed to Bristol World how the project has overseen a sizeable rise in referrals since September - with this number expected to rise through the Christmas period.
Mel comments “We’ve seen a 40% increase in referrals to The MAZI Project in the last two months. The growth in referrals for our meal kits, which we deliver weekly to Bristol’s hungry youth, shows the issue of food insecurity is increasing every day. For asylum seekers, care leavers and Bristol’s homeless youth, the issue requires urgent action. For many, Christmas is a time of joy, time with family and friends but for the young people we help, Christmas is the loneliest time of the year. Their sense of isolation increases exponentially, which impacts our ability to empower them into creating a better future for themselves and their community”.
If you are, or know, a young person based in Bristol who is facing food insecurity and might benefit from a MAZI Project meal kit, email [email protected]