Ali has known a lot of upheaval in his 47 years, but is very happy that he is now settling down and learning a new trade.
Two refugees, Ali from Iran, and his fellow trainee Monther, 31, from Syria, are the new trainees at SEIDS Property Services.
SEIDs Property Services is a maintenance and decorating company with a difference. Whilst aiming to make a profit to reinvest into SEIDs, the charity of which it is a part, the business puts the needs of its workers first, meaning from day one the trainees are paid a London Living Wage.
This is of great help to Ali and Monther, who both have families to support and lives to rebuild. Monther lived in a refugee camp in Jordan, after fleeing the war in Syria with his wife and children. He describes life in the camp as “terrible”, saying that he experienced hostility from locals, resentful of the 700,000 refugees being hosted in their small country.
Monther and his family moved to the UK under a government settlement programme, and he immediately started learning English and looking for odd jobs. It was while he was working for a church in Hampstead that he was referred to SEIDs Property Services as a trainee. He is hoping to improve his English skills at the same time as learning to be a painter and decorator.
Ali used to have a high-powered job in an Iranian steel company. He has a big heart, always ready to help others, and was volunteering for the Salvation Army, when his talent for building maintenance was spotted. He is eager to learn everything he can about decorating and has ambitions to become an electrician.
Their manager, Pawel Szkolnik, recognises that there will be challenges working with two such recent immigrants, who are still learning English, but says that the most important thing is that they are willing to learn. “If they want to listen, I can teach them,” he says with obvious pride in his own skills as a trainer.
SEIDs Property Services was founded in 2017 as part of the charity, SEIDs, itself a project of Caritas Westminster. They mainly work renovating and repairing church buildings within the Diocese of Westminster, and are hoping to expand as the trainees become more skilled.
SEIDs’ mission is to help people who are unemployed or underemployed find decent, meaningful and dignified work through self-employment, training and living wage job opportunities. As well as managing SEIDs Property Services, they also run training courses for people setting up social enterprises and small businesses.
Nita P. Woods, who took over the management of SEIDS in November 2020, knows that to have the greatest impact, a small charity with limited resources needs to focus its attention. As she puts it, “If you want to find water, you don’t dig 10 holes. You dig one hole and you dig deep.”
Already, the majority of people on the SEIDS Start-Up Programme – 75% – were from Black and Minority Ethnic groups. Over half were black women, simply because these make up a high proportion of the unemployed in the London Borough of Brent, where the charity is based. The programme was able to adapt to the specific needs of these people – and the peer support element of the programme worked especially well because the members understood each other’s backgrounds.
The team at SEIDs have a shared commitment to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of the core group of staff, three are from immigrant backgrounds, and one has a lot of personal experience volunteering with refugee organisations, therefore focusing on refugees and migrants seems the natural thing to do.
SEIDs’ work has been supporting Brent’s Black Community Action Plan for some time, and in February Nita signed them up to the London Declaration for Refugee Entrepreneurs, a campaign organised by TERN – the Entrepreneurial Refugee Network, with the aim of getting business support services to 50% of London’s 1,000 aspiring refugee entrepreneurs. Nita is looking forward to working more with TERN for the mutual benefit of both organisations.
As she sees it “When you put resources into the hands of people who have been disadvantaged, they will naturally set up enterprises that serve a more diverse range of people. They understand hardship better than anyone.”
Much of this is work in progress, but for each individual that benefits from the Start-Up Programme, and for Monther and Ali, learning from Pawel in SEIDs Property Services, SEIDs is already making a difference.
This May, in the Year of St Joseph, who was both a manual worker and a refugee, we are focussing on the topic of The Dignity of Work.
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