It doesn’t take long to feel impressed by Abdulrazak Ghabash. Sitting in the back room of his spotless shop on London Road, Sheffield, the confidence with which he runs his own business is immediately apparent, as his friendly manner and giving nature.
It’s hard to believe he was one of the millions of people whose lives were shattered when the Syrian war destroyed all he knew – his home, community and thriving mobile phone shop.
Forced to flee in a desperate search for safety, he eventually arrived in Britain with his wife and three children – but not before a three-year stay in Lebanon fraught with danger.
“We lived in Lebanon for 3 years and were always scared. We had a shop there but it was a very difficult life. Once I didn’t get paid for 8 months on end. I also had a job which involved selling phones to shops and the car I needed to do this was stolen.”
Determined to rebuild his life once settled in the UK, Abdulrazak got to work as soon as he possibly could. With the support of the Refugee Council and notably its STEP Programme, funded by the World Jewish Relief Fund, and with support from other charities including TERN and Goldman Sachs Gives, in just two years the 42-year-old Sheffield resident has built up a popular shop in a busy part of the city – with dreams of expansion.
“I think people come to my shop because they know they can get a good service. People seem surprised by how fast I am able to help them. I get customers based on word of mouth – people come in and say, “my mother told me about your shop!” and things like that.
“You see, we have skills beyond simply selling products. We have the specialist equipment to fix phones and other types of repair work, which makes people really happy. A few shops subcontract us to help them with repairs they can’t do themselves. It’s good to be able to help them as well.
“I dream of being able to open a warehouse and sell wholesale to shops. At the moment there isn’t a company in Sheffield that provides this service and I rely on going to Manchester to get products. So there is a gap there.”
Abdulrazak talks about how much he likes Sheffield – its friendly nature, good supply of shops that cater to his family’s needs and above all its diversity; “it feels really right that there should be so many people who are originally from many different countries living here,” he says.
Amongst those he interacts with are people living in Sheffield who are also from refugee backgrounds, whom he enjoys supporting whenever he can.
“Every day other refugees come to ask us for help – people who came here before us and also after us. They ask us for tips on how to set up a new business. They seem to really worry about things like paying tax, understanding business rents and how these things will impact on their child benefit. They need someone who can tell them how everything works.
“I enjoy supporting refugees who are also trying to start new lives here. We really want to be able to inspire other refugees who have been through so much, as we have, and to see what we have achieved. We came from zero. We had no English and the UK was a completely new country. In a very short space of time we went from having nothing to having our own business.”
The STEP Programme
The Specialist Training and Employment (STEP) Programme supports refugees who came to the UK through either the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). The aim is to support refugees by helping to develop their skills and work with them to identify the opportunities they need to secure appropriate and sustainable employment.
The Refugee Council delivers STEP in South Yorkshire, Leeds and York, in parallel with sister programmes delivered by Horton Housing in Bradford and by Coventry City Council. The programme offers clients a combination of tailored one to one support, external partner led programmes, and is intended to provide development opportunities for clients at different points on the journey towards work.