Why Burnley (unofficially) still has its friendliest town badge of honour/ Rachel Bayley Burnley Brand Manager
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I beg to differ; Ousama’s English is extremely good and considering I can’t speak any other language than English, I would absolutely not judge anyone else’s efforts to speak a language that isn’t their first.
The Mediterranean food business inside Burnley Market has proven popular since it opened, including with myself and my colleagues, with its hearty falafel wraps a particular favourite. The counter is adorned with mouth-watering baklava and intricate tea sets and the menu vast and very affordable.
What I didn’t realise was the story of Ousama and how he came to open a business in Burnley. “I’m from Syria and as everyone knows, war started in my country in 2011. After three years, I decided it just wasn’t a safe country to be in anymore, and so my wife Nermen and I moved to
Lebanon. We stayed there for five or six years, but unfortunately unrest began. I was earning good money in Lebanon as a decorator and my wife was pregnant with our first child, so we tried to make the most of the situation and hoped it would pass.
“However, one day, a missile landed on our roof and I’d had enough, I needed to protect my wife and unborn child. We twice moved to different cities, but there would always be fighting between the government and the people. One day, there was a huge car bomb. At the time, our baby boy was two months old. My wife really wanted us to make it work in Lebanon. We unfortunately also faced hostility from some of the Lebanese people, who questioned why we were in their country. Then when our child was old enough to start school, we were told we would have to pay for him to go to private school because we weren’t from their country,” Ousama explains.
Ousama says he couldn’t sleep or properly eat through fear that his family would get caught in the crossfire.
“I eventually contacted The United Nations and said please help my family move to somewhere safe. They asked me if I needed help and money and I told them I didn’t want money, I was earning good money in my job, I wanted my family to be safe. I told them I would move to any country where it was safe and they told me I could move to the UK to a town called Burnley,” he says.
Following the Clarets from Lebanon I ask if he’d ever heard of Burnley before moving here in 2017 and the answer surprises me!
“Yes I’d heard of Burnley as I’m a big football fan so I’d watch their matches and other English football games. I’m crazy about football, I really like watching Chelsea and Arsenal too, I’d watch the Spanish league every weekend. I didn’t know where Burnley was, but I knew about the club.”
Ousama admits that he found the transition to the UK difficult because since he was a teenager he has always worked. After two months, he approached Burnley Council and asked them to give him a job. Whilst supportive, they explained he would need to attend English classes at Burnley College to stand him the best chance to find paid work. Ousama attended two-hour classes three times a week, but it wasn’t enough to keep him occupied.
“I’d wake up, I’d have a coffee, I’d attend my classes on the days they were, but then I had nothing to do and this doesn’t suit me. So, I went back to the council and they said I could help paint the benches in Thompson Park, using my decorating skills. I also volunteered at the Burnley FC in the Community kitchen and foodbank to make sure I spent my time wisely,” Ousama continues.
He was advised it could take up to two years for paid work and to be patient with the process. “Two years! I was restless and ready for work straight away, so I asked again after six months!”.
It is clear he is a hard worker and wants the best for his family, but also to be a part of the community in which they live. It was a visit to Burnley Market with his wife that sparked his business idea…..but what happened next?
It’s a fascinating tale of resilience, and we know our borough and people are resilient indeed. You can read the rest of Ousama’s story in the latest edition of Burnley Lifestyle Magazine, which has now moved to twice a year.
The autumn/winter edition (with Jay Rod on the front cover), has been distributed across the UK. We’ve been busy topping copies up around our businesses, but you’re most likely to get your hands on copies from Towneley Hall and Burnley and Padiham Town Halls.