Refugee Week: Juman's story about being a supermarket frontline worker

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, 22 year old Juman has been a frontline supermarket worker, helping the country via her role on the shop floor of Marks and Spencer’s food department in Coventry. World Jewish Relief helped her get the job. This is her story: 

“When I came to Coventry I thought I would have no problem finding a job. I had experience working in a supermarket and I could speak English. I wrote my CV and took it round to lots of shops but everyone rejected me as they said I didn’t have any experience working in UK’

Juman came to Coventry in 2018 under the government’s Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) which pledged to bring 20,000 refugees to the UK by 2020.  She had studied some English in school but could speak the language largely thanks to her teenage passion for the boy band ‘One Direction’, learning a lot of the language through their lyrics.

However, finding a job proved more difficult than she had anticipated, until she joined STEP, World Jewish Relief’s ‘Specialist Training and Employment Programme’ delivered in partnership with Coventry City Council. Through STEP, Juman was given guidance on routes into employment and offered a two day Business in the Community training with Marks and Spencer, followed by a two week placement in one of their stores. This opportunity proved a huge turning point in many ways.  Juman says “The training was really helpful in building my confidence. They helped me improve my CV and taught me interview skills. It felt like people cared about us.’

The placement led to the offer of a short contract and then in late 2019 Juman was offered a full time positon at Marks and Spencer. She says “It felt really good to get that. It’s so nice to know that I have a secure role at M&S and in Coventry, I finally feel like I belong somewhere. This feels like home”.

STEP has been with her every step of the way, so much so that Juman says ‘I feel like you worry about me even more than my mum!’.  ‘You took me to the train station, got me tickets, showed me the way and checked in on me all the time. My confidence wasn’t good, I knew English but I didn’t know the rules of the country.   I’m so grateful for all the support’.

When Covid-19 struck, Juman worried this might impact her job with Marks and Spencer.  “I was worried I would be furloughed and I didn’t want to be, as I am really energetic and I love my work. Marks and Spencer kept me on and have been really caring. They are strict with social distancing and hygiene so I feel safe. At first, it was quiet but gradually more people started to come to the store and I was pleased because I want to be the friendly face that they see when they shop. I am proud to be working on the frontline during coronavirus and to be able to do something for my community.

Juman in store

And Juman has bigger dreams of how she might contribute to British society in the future.  She says “I feel grateful every day for being in the UK.  This project (STEP) gave me a second chance to live. I just really want to make the most of it. I’d like to be able to give something back, to make a difference, to help others. My dream is to be a doctor but I know that is many years of studying ahead. And even if I’m not a doctor, I will become something health related so that I can care for others”.

Her only disappointment is that ‘One Direction’ split up before she got to the UK, so she won’t have the opportunity to see them play live.

We are so proud of Juman, and thrilled that Marks and Spencer have given her and other refugees on the STEP programme, the opportunity for employment and the chance to start rebuilding their lives. It is especially poignant that one of  the founders of our charity was Simon Marks, former Chair and MD of Marks and Spencer and son of Michael Marks who began the store.

Find out more about our refugee work and support our programmes 

STEP is run by World Jewish Relief and delivered in partnership with Horton Housing AssociationThe Refugee CouncilCoventry City CouncilBusiness in the CommunityThe Entrepreneurial Refugee Network and the Stand Up and Be Counted Theatre Company.

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