Award-winning customer: ‘Longhurst Group helped me to turn my life around’
A recent customer at Longhurst Group’s Wisbech Foyer in Cambridgeshire has been hailed as an inspiration to others after scooping a national award.
Nora Mohammed, 19, was presented with the Inspiration Award at the 2018 Spark Awards, run by The Foyer Federation.
She was recognised for the way in which she has transformed her life since moving to the Foyer, which provides supported accommodation for up to 17 young people aged between 16 and 25.
For as long as she can remember, Nora has always wanted to be a doctor.
However, at the age of just 15, those dreams were thrown into doubt when, after her father lost his job in Saudi Arabia, the family was forced to move back to her parents’ native Eritrea.
Instability in the country would eventually split the family, with Nora and her brother moving to the UK in January 2015. While Nora was taken into care in Cambridge, her older sibling, who has mental health issues, was moved to Scotland.
Now hundreds of miles from her brother – and even further from her mother and father back in northeast Africa – Nora admits it was a ‘difficult’ period of her young life.
Her situation worsened when, upon turning 18, the support she had been receiving from social services stopped and says she was left feeling totally alone.
But that was soon about to change.
“It was a very difficult time. I had no-one,” she explained. “When I was in foster care, I always had someone to help me but when I turned 18, I didn’t have anyone.
“That was until my personal advisor found that there might be an opportunity for me to move to the Foyer. That’s when things started to change.”
Specialist staff help residents develop independent living skills, supporting them with individual training needs, accessing education and employment.
Each resident has their own room, with access to shared facilities, including a communal lounge, kitchen and laundry room.
Wisbech, which is operated by member company Axiom, also has two move-on flats for those residents who are ready to make the next step towards independence.
Nora added: “I came for an interview at the Foyer, I was lucky enough to get accepted and move in to a flat.
“Here, I got that support that I needed. It really enabled me to move forward with my life.”
Having arrived in the UK with no qualifications to her name, the normality and security offered by the Foyer enabled Nora to refocus on her education and begin to plot the route to her dream career.
She began working towards a Level 3 qualification in Biomedical Science, balancing her studies with her new-found job as a lab technician and regular trips to visit her brother.
“It was really easy to cope with my studies while I lived here,” she said. “The people at the Foyer helped me to deal with my benefits and things like that and then we had lots of key worker sessions where they kept up-to-date with how I was doing with my studies. They really, really helped.
“I kept going up to Scotland to see my brother regularly and balancing that with my studies and my job was tricky at times, but I managed it thanks to the support I received.”
With her brother particularly poorly during her coursework deadlines, Nora had to submit her work late, meaning she faced an agonising wait for her final results and the decision on whether she would be able to take the next step on her incredible journey by joining the University of Westminster in London.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be accepted,” she said. “But I got better grades than they needed in the end and so they accepted me, which was brilliant. It’s just a dream come true.
“I came to the UK with no GCSEs but now I’m going to university. I can’t believe how much my life has turned around.
“I’m looking forward to moving to London and starting University, but I’ve really enjoyed living at the Foyer. I love my room and it’s exactly how I want it. My room at Uni isn’t as nice as the one I had!
“If I hadn’t lived at the Foyer, my life would be very different. I would have struggled. Everyone has been brilliant.
She added: “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor – a General Practitioner. It’s been a dream since I’ve been young.
“After my four-year degree, I have to do another three years before I’m qualified as a doctor. I’ve definitely taken the long route, but I’m on the right road now.”
Helen Florence, Service Manager at Wisbech Foyer, added: “Since moving to the Foyer, Nora has flourished as individual and we’re proud to have been able to help her on her journey. To see her achieve what she has is incredible and she’s a real inspiration to us all.
“She is a sympathetic and supportive individual who has overcome every obstacle that’s been placed in her way without hesitation. As well as supporting herself, she has certainly made a huge difference to her brother’s life and we all know that she will continue to achieve great things in hers.”