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Hikmat at home in Newcastle with PL Works

25 Jul 2018
Hikmat Sulaiman, Newcastle United Foundation

How the Newcastle Foundation and Premier League programme has given one refugee the chance to gain employability skills

Hikmat Sulaiman arrived in Newcastle last year after his family fled conflict in Syria in 2013.

At first, he struggled to settle in the North East but with the help of the Newcastle United Foundation and the Premier League Works programme, the 20-year-old started to integrate and gain skills that will help in his search for employment.

Here, Hikmat and the Foundation's PL Works project officer Dan Hancock take up the story.

Hikmat: Life was very hard in Syria. We struggled to go to school because of the war. The school was bombed once, so we all had fear inside us. We weren't secure.

When I first got to Newcastle I couldn't communicate well because of the language barrier. I wasn't comfortable and I was a bit stressed. I didn't want to speak unless I had to. 

Dan: We first met Hikmat last August. He was quiet to start with and slightly withdrawn but his attitude was excellent.

Hikmat: I wanted to go on the course because I like football and wanted to make friends. That first session was a beautiful feeling because I met the guys for the first time.

Dan: He was very positive and very helpful. He would always come forward and offer support, whether that was setting things up for sessions, carrying kit, anything he could possibly help with, he always wanted to make it really good and professional. He was always very positive.

Hikmat: As well as playing football regularly, we took part in personal development sessions like CV and interview workshops.

Hikmat, Newcastle United Foundation
Hikmat Sulaiman took part in CV and interview workshops with the Newcastle United Foundation

Dan: That was Hikmat's first experience of mock interviews and with the language barrier, that was quite a big step.

Hikmat: PL Works has helped us meet lots of different people from the area and has given us a lot of help with our future plans. The Foundation has also given us so many brilliant opportunities to experience British life.

Dan: Although the core PL Works programme lasts for between 12-15 weeks, individual support continues for a lot longer and can be for about 12 months. Hikmat also visited Virgin Money and British Engines to learn about possible careers and watched England play at Wembley Stadium.

Hikmat: Our coaches have been kind and understanding but also challenged us to improve and take chances. I have made friends and improved my confidence. I have started to depend more on myself and have more courage.

I have met new people and that has helped me overcome the language barrier. I am a lot more confident in job interviews and I feel I can express myself and talk about my experiences.

Dan: Hikmat was also involved in a community project we set up with the Middlesbrough's MFC Foundation as part of PL Works. That culminated with him and the rest of the group visiting children's wards at local hospitals to deliver Christmas gifts.

Hikmat: We also took penalties at half-time at St. James' Park. Being cheered by the fans was something we won't forget. Newcastle have been so welcoming.

I feel happy now and I am more settled. My priority is finding a job and then I will work more on my English to improve it.

Dan: He is a lot more outgoing now, definitely more confident. He is a very happy lad, very positive. He's got goals and the determination to achieve what he wants to. Hikmat has a lot of potential and the future is bright for him.

Hikmat is one of more than 700 people who have been engaged in PL Works since September. The programme, a partnership with the Professional Footballers Association and the Prince's Trust, is delivered by 25 clubs.

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