Pheona Matovu ~ Radiant and Brighter!

IMG_3250I have lived in the UK for 16 years and the most challenging time came 8 years ago when we were denied renewal of our residence permit to live in the UK. 2 years into my marriage with 2 children under 5 and another one on the way it was hard to believe that I wasn’t allowed to work and our single income could not support our family of five. In fact we had to choose between paying rent and buying food. One of the hardest things was not being able to see a mid-wife for the first 7 months of my last child’s pregnancy because we couldn’t register with a doctor without residence permit. All I could do was hold on to the belief that our child was going to be born healthy. I often thought of parents in poorer countries who don’t always see a health professional. If they could cope, so could I. Not being able to access any support from any organisation and not eligible for welfare support, we had to depend on the goodness of the community for bare necessities.

Not being allowed to work or access any financial support for 5 years may have been very challenging but this was also the most inspiring time in my life. I had always been in charge of my destiny, or so I thought and now I felt my ability to decide my future had been taken away. I however, had the opportunity to make this a positive or negative experience. I am blessed with a lovely and supportive husband who always sees the positive in every situation. So together, we accepted to take this as a learning curve. My husband made a decision to go and volunteer every day. After our third child was born, my husband would wake up and walk 30-40 minutes to a local church where he volunteered as a Janitor. As soon as I was well enough to walk the distance, I also started to volunteer. This was a real eye opener. Not only did it give us something to do, it also helped us learn the benefits of volunteering and most importantly the real challenges of Minority Ethnic Communities.

We quickly became part of the church community then my husband and I joined a leadership course. As part of the course, all students were required to initiate a project. My husband’s project was to organise a meal for asylum seekers. What was a single meal, turned into a monthly initiative through which we facilitated group discussions on issues affecting minority ethnic communities. This initiative brought us hope in what seemed like a hopeless situation and became a learning experience which would be the beginnings of a career in working with minority ethnic groups. The initiative run on for 5 years while we waited to hear from the Home office.

Finally, in 2012 we were granted permission to live in UK. Armed with permission to work, we went out looking for jobs but that was not to be. We woke up every day, in shock that we were now allowed to work but the job market wouldn’t have us because we had 5 years of unemployment. Regardless of how much we explained that we had project management experience and had founded an initiative, finding a job became impossible.

Setting up Radiant and Brighter has been very challenging as we came into it with no income but it is a very rewarding experience. We see people in pretty similar or worse situations than we were but supporting them to take the journey and begin to see a glimmer of hope is most rewarding.
We see people who are in isolation as a result of poverty and not knowing anyone. It is not easy having to see it every day and it can sometimes make you angry and sad at the same time. It brings back lots of unpleasant memories and issues. I remember finding it hard to engage with women at the toddler group and eventually deciding never to go back because I was afraid.

All my work evolves round my family now. I go to work and get back in time for the kids to find me at home. If I am not at home, I always try to make sure they have something to eat when they get back. I have a very supportive husband but I feel it is my responsibility to ensure the kids are well taken care of. He does everything, from doing our daughter’s hair to taking them to school but I feel it is my duty. May be it is a cultural thing. In my home country there’s a saying that, “mwana mubi avumya nyina” which translates as when a child is poorly behaved it’s the mothers fault. Whether by nature or nurture, that is a discussion for another day, but I see myself as mom and wife first of all. As such, my work comes second to that. I am passionate about people’s dreams and talent because I believe we are all uniquely able to be and do something like no one else. Every day at work is different and the people we work with are such amazing people.

This is why Radiant and Brighter just feels right. Through it, we are able to support people to use their talents, skills and qualifications to achieve their dreams. It is still early days but we have made very good friends in the business world who see and support what we are trying to achieve.

Some of the organisations we have established links with include; Marks and Spencer, Business Gateway, Entrepreneur Spark, Royal Bank of Scotland, Chamber of Commerce, Latta & Co. Solicitors, Jobs and Business, Women’s Enterprise Scotland, Poverty alliance, Council for Ethnic Minority volunteer Organisations (CEMVO), Nneoma Women’s group, and Baseline.
Radiant and Brighter is part of the ‘ScotlandCanDO’ eco-system for Enterprise. The company also featured as a Job Centre and Jobs and Business success story. Radiant and Brighter was also featured in the Scottish Entrepreneurship government paper as a good practice case study.
Radiant and Brighter was awarded the Council for Ethnic Minority and Volunteers Organisations (CEMVO) Employment Impact Award and the Evening Times Community Champion Team Award.

Through group work, training and person centred support, Radiant and Brighter support clients to engage with available opportunities for employment, upskilling and entrepreneurship.
Radiant and Brighter aims to;

  • Increase and promote opportunities for minority groups and individuals.
  • Expand culture awareness within the local community and local structures
  • Bridge the gap between mainstream organisations and communities
  • Raise awareness of opportunities available to the community
  • Promote an asset based approach which recognises the potential of individuals and groups
  • Promote equality and diversity

Services delivered include;

  • Employability programmes for Minority groups and individuals which include; Cross Cultural Communication, Participatory Learning and Employability skills
  • Business Start-up training for Minority Ethnic communities. The programme is tailor made to meet the needs of the clients and compliments main stream support and training and
  • Bespoke Business to Business Training which includes; equality and diversity, community engagement, leadership, and cross-culture communication programmes tailor made to suit the needs of businesses and organisations.

Despite having no significant sum of funding, and no paid staff members, the organisation has a success rate of 75% of 250 clients going into full time education, employment or business start-up over a period of a year and a half.

Radiant and Brighter also runs an annual event aimed at bridging the gap between mainstream organisations and the local community. The first of these annual events was launched at The Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in Gogarburn in July 2014, and successfully engaged 120 people from the local community, government officials and over 30 different organisations. The support, and encouragement we have received from people to get our business off the ground has been incredible. Scotland is a great place to live, start a business.

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