Leila’s Story – International Women’s Day

Last week, I met Leila*, a young woman living in our hostel. The reason for our meeting was to hear about her experience of re-settling in the UK from Syria and to ask her about the services she has engaged with since becoming a client at Cardinal Hume Centre. I’d been told that she had suffered great trauma before coming to the UK and that it would be best if I didn’t ask her about the past. However, when we met and began to talk, she asked if I would like to hear her whole story. I agreed not to write about all the details, but she wanted to share her experiences with me. We talked for over an hour and as well as being really moved by all she told me, I felt very privileged to meet her and hear her story. Her courage and positive spirit is a real inspiration.

Leila is 24 years old. She came to the UK in 2013. Her life as a Palestinian refugee in Syria had become increasingly difficult since the outbreak of fighting in the Civil War.

“There was bombing and fighting. It was very dangerous. There was no work, no shops.  No money, no food or even water.  People were eating rubbish, squeezing the stems of plants to try and get moisture to drink.”

Leila doesn’t want to dwell on the past or re-live the many horrific incidents that took place. She took a chance to flee the country and after a long and frightening journey with someone she hardly knew, she arrived in the UK.            

photodune-14382622-iranian-young-woman-beautiful-smile-l (2)Leila’s early days in the UK were difficult. As well as having lost a lot of weight and being very weak, she was in a very poor state emotionally, feeling vulnerable, fearful and completely alone.

She was offered NASS (National Asylum Support Service) accommodation but it was in Liverpool and Leila felt too traumatised by all that she had experienced to undertake another journey. So she stayed in London, sometimes sleeping outside in parks or at railway stations. She was befriended by a woman who let Leila stay with her for a while and during that time she enrolled at college to learn English. She was receiving just £35 a week in state support and after buying a weekly travel card to get to college, she had scarcely any money left.

Leila was desperate to find work and during a visit to the Job Centre, she was told about the Cardinal Hume Centre. Not only could the Centre help her with skills development and employment support but it was also able to offer her accommodation in its hostel for young people. Finally, Leila had her own space, a room of her own and access to a range of support services.

“At first I was shy and didn’t speak to anyone. But the staff are so good here, they are not like officials – they are friendly and respect you. I started to feel safe.”

Leila has been living in the Centre’s hostel for 3 months and staff are hugely impressed with her energy and positive attitude. As well as attending English classes at college, she now has a part-time job and she is also working with the Centre’s learning and employment team to continue developing her skills for further employment opportunities. She is making friends in the hostel and enjoys cooking meals and sharing recipes with other residents.

Now I’m in this country, and I have the chance to do something. I want to make the most of my chances”.


Hilary Nightingale

Partnerships & Public Affairs Manager


(*not her real name)