Melissa, London

Time Together is a scheme run by the volunteering charity TimeBank that matches refugees with a mentor to help them to adapt to UK life.


Melissa found out about Time Together through a friend and it instantly struck a chord with her because it stems deeply within her as her father was a refugee from Vienna in 1938. She also runs her own beauty manufacturing company and a lot of the staff she employs are refugees. She has always found it deeply moving and disturbing that refugees can’t often find the jobs they wanted and deserved just because they were considered as black immigrants.


One employee in her company for example is from Ethiopia – he was an air traffic controller back in Ethiopia but when he came over to the UK and registered with the local job centre he could only find basic admin and clean up work even though he was extremely well qualified. He found a job opportunity on the floor production unit at Melissa’s company but as soon as she heard about his skills and qualifications she ensured that he was trained to become a mixologist and now is an integral part in developing the beauty product range.


Melissa has always been very impressed with people who came over to the UK as a refugee with limited language skills and on their own and as soon as she heard about Time Together she thought that she could help by offering them her business and commercial knowledge as well as her sensitivity towards refugees.


Melissa was matched with Anne Marie, a refugee from Rwanda who came to London on her own without her family, after her husband was shot in the civil war.  Anne Marie was undertaking a business qualification and so Time Together matched her with Melissa as they thought she could potentially benefit from her expert knowledge of running her own business.


At the outset Melissa could tell instantly that Anne Marie was very bright and educated and had excellent English language skills. She acted as a referee for her to get her British citizenship but what Anne Marie was really looking for was the confidence to feel part of living in the UK - she wanted to feel more at home here. A really sad example is that she never felt comfortable going into a toy shop to buy exciting new things for her little children and as much as she loved reading she could never walk into a bookshop and spend time deciding on what literature and novels to read. Also, even though she lived in London she had never been to the River Thames, visited the museums and galleries or gone to a theatre show as she felt, as a refugee, that she wouldn’t be welcome and didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone.


So they were just some of the things that Melissa introduced her to – the wonders of Hamley’s toy store that her children absolutely loved, along with the bursting culture of London. After a wonderful trip to the Tate Modern, Melissa found that she liked art and she had never really seen much of it before. She loves cooking too so Melissa showed her the foodie delights of Borough market – Anne Marie’s a regular there now!


Another thing Anne Marie wanted to do was to make more friends in London and really wanted to join a church. So Melissa went with her to her local Church which she now attends regularly with her children and where she has made lots of wonderful friends.


Melissa says,


“There is always a lot of bigotry about refugees and asylum seekers in this country and I really wanted a chance to help put that into perspective. I feel that as a country with a refugee policy we have a real duty to help refugees feel part of the UK and Time Together really helps do that. Through the scheme Anne Marie felt as though someone was interested in her – Not only did I help her meet new friends and introduce her to the British way of life so she could feel part of it but I learnt so many interesting things from her too such as her culture and I listened for hours about what she had to endure in Rwanda during the civil war. We all like to feel that we are contributing to society and it felt so good to know that I was helping to give someone the self esteem and self respect that they deserved.”