Fatima's Story


Fatima lives in the Small Heath area of Birmingham and has lived there for 9 years, since moving over from Pakistan with her younger brother and father. Her father stayed in Holland before coming to the UK. Fatima is 29 and her brother is 21. She lives 25 minutes walk from Crossover Resource Centre. Apart from an auntie and uncle in Birmingham, the rest of Fatima’s family live in Pakistan, including her mother and grandmother. They would like to move to the UK to be with the rest of their family but have visa problems. Fatima has been back to visit family recently - the first time in 9 years. 

At the beginning of the study, Fatima was looking for a job. She was happy to do all sorts of jobs, and was looking at packing, cleaning, warehouse work, or caring. She has been looking for a job on and off for all that time. Recently, she has been caring for her father, who has been unwell for five or six years. He damaged his knees, had an operation, but hasn’t been right since. He’s on Disability Living Allowance, and Fatima seems to take up most of the domestic work at home. In the first interview, she talked about how she hoped that her experience caring for her dad could lead to a care job.

Chapter 1

The first time we met Fatima, she talked about her frustration in everyday life. She said ‘I feel really bored and I feel really down that I’m not doing anything with my life. Because I’m pretty young and the time’s just going and it’s moving fast.’ A lot of Fatima’s friends don’t work either. Even with worries about her dad, Fatima was determined to find a job.

In the last couple of years, Fatima has volunteered in a local Islamic Relief charity shop. She found out about the placement there because a cousin used to work there. She worked there for over a year, but had to stop when she went back to Pakistan in 2016. Apart from this volunteer work, she has never had a job. Fatima thinks that her education is holding her back. She attended school in Pakistan, but didn’t complete her secondary education. She attended on and off, but eventually stopped going because the school was too far from her village. 

Throughout our interviews with Fatima, she needed support with her English. Volunteers and staff from Crossover helped in the interviews. They were part of the conversations, and translated as part of our conversations with Fatima. 

Fatima does not speak English confidently, and this has made it hard for her to get into work. Fatima talked about how this has had an impact on her: ‘It’s about education. If you have no education it’s hard to find a job. The problem is my English speaking and writing as well. I did get two interviews, but I was told I lack writing skills.’ 

Fatima took up a voluntary position at a charity shop to try and improve her prospects. As she said, ‘it was very difficult for me. I didn’t have the confidence at all. I couldn’t even approach people or even talk to them, communicate with them. I used to get really scared and nervous. After three months I started settling in, then getting used to talking to customers and communicating with them.’

Fatima also thinks that a lack of working experience is holding her back - she had two job applications rejected by employers for this reason. Apart from similar small pieces of feedback, she hasn’t been receiving any feedback when she gives her CV to people. She even went to ‘the major supermarkets, such as Morrisons, Asda and places like that, even to start off voluntary to gain experience, but had no luck.’

Fatima started attending Crossover in March 2016. Crossover is an Online Centre located in Birmingham, in the inner-city area of Bordesley Green. Crossover is part of St Paul’s church, but the centre has a very broad, multicultural, outreach programme. They provide ESOL, and social inclusion programmes for ethnic minority groups, run job-clubs, employment support, and computer classes. They also offer advice and guidance, and support to individuals in poverty, and provide volunteering and work programmes for their users. 

Fatima was told about Crossover by a friend. She first started going to the centre to get help with job applications. As she says, Crossover ‘help me to fill in the application form and applying for jobs on the computer.’ This support is crucial; as she says: ‘I can find the job, but I don’t know how to apply for the job.’

Fatima has a computer and a laptop at home which she sometimes uses, and a smartphone, which she uses at home with WiFi, but she doesn’t use mobile data. She searches for jobs using her smartphone, but often, she doesn’t know how to apply to them.  


A volunteer at Crossover talked about how Fatima gets confused when she’s applying for jobs: ‘She doesn’t know how to do the search engine, basically. How to type in, how to get there on the actual sites and how to register. It’s these little things that she gets confused about’. She goes on to talk about how Fatima has found quite a lot of help through Crossover: ‘how to apply for jobs, how to use email. We made her a new CV, helped her to update her CV and sent it to her email. She’s learning how to do these things herself’.

By practising at Crossover, Fatima began to feel that she was improving her computer skills. She feels like she’s become quite efficient in her job searching. She says 

‘before I used to only tap in my postcode and the job that I am looking for where it says ‘job description’ but there used to be jobs that used to be far and wide but now I’ve realised how to narrow the search down. At first felt like extremely like I couldn’t do it, but now it’s like I’ve reached where I’m not that intimidated by it. I’m getting used to the idea’. 

When Fatima had been using the internet for a few weeks, she was using Google and watching funny shows on YouTube. She didn’t know how to do online shopping, Skype or Facebook, but she wanted to know about them. She had seed her brother using them, and liked the idea of learning herself: ‘I think once you get to know how to do it, I think it would be easy because you would have every choice. It’s just that I don’t know how to do it’.

In our first interview with Fatima, she described an average day to us. She is often the first to wake in her house. She feeds her dad, cleans the house, and then takes her CVs to shops in her area. Often, she goes to her friend’s house. Her friend was highly educated in Pakistan; she has good English, and she helps her to fill in forms. This is really helpful for Fatima, but her friend doesn’t know about computers, and can’t help her to access job-search and online applications.  

Chapter 2

When we interviewed Fatima again in November 2016, she had found a part-time caring job. Sabrina, a tutor at Crossover, helped her to write her application and send her CV. Fatima had also been volunteering at Crossover in their coffee shop. This experience, in combination with Sabrina’s support, led to her getting the job. She said: ‘I am so happy. For 10 years I have not had a job. If I have job, then it is good for me. After 10 years it is hard to apply for jobs and you are getting older. Before, I lost hope that I was never going to find a job and once I had got one, I was relieved.’

She admits the first week was hard: ‘First day I am scared, how can I do everything then after one week, I am now used to it. Now I can do easy four, five clients a day.’ Fatima was working Monday - Sunday caring for people in their homes, 25 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. 

Although she was happy to get her first job, Fatima wanted a full-time job. Around the time of the second interview, she had been offered a full-time caring job. Again, Sabrina from Crossover helped her to apply for this job, and also provided a reference. Fatima was still coming to the centre for support. 

Fatima’s new job meant that she had to abandon going to English classes, and she was still struggling with English. Despite this, she managed her second interview without an interpreter. 

In terms of computer use, Fatima was still struggling with understanding English: ‘I can look but I can’t reply’. She admits she will struggle to have the time to learn English now that she is working. She had started using Whatsapp in the last three, four months, which her brother had told her about, because it is free to call her brother and dad (‘before it was too much money’). Fatima still feels that, compared with her brother, ‘he is too high’ skilled for her. She feels she would like to learn more, if she had the time and somebody to help her understand, and then she can do things herself. 

Fatima got married in March 2016. Her husband is in Pakistan and Fatima still lives with her dad. She hopes that her husband will move over, but Fatima needs to have a work for more hours a week before she can support her husband’s visa application. 

‘My hope is to have a good full-time job and that is it. If my husband comes here, then I hope to have children. I love children’


Chapter 3

At the third interview with Fatima in March 2017, she was working 50 hours a week doing two care jobs for two different companies. Fatima had been working hard to hit the £18,600 income threshold she needs to call her husband over from Pakistan. Having hit the threshold, she was now waiting for a payslip as evidence. Crossover can help Fatima complete the paperwork she needs for her husband’s visa application. 'It’s hard work but still I’m happy because I have a job. My dream has come true'. 

Sabrina interpreted for Fatima and said 'she thought she would only be on the Job Seekers the rest of her life'. Through working, Fatima was enjoying meeting different people and had made friends with other carers that she sometimes works alongside. She’s working in care now, but Fatima has aspirations to work in childcare.

Chapter 4

On reflecting about how her life has changed over the last couple of years, Fatima is happy ‘that she believed in herself’ having felt a lot of pressure and negative judgement from others about why she wasn’t working and ‘she should be working’ and ‘was going to the job centre just to, you know, scrounge or get money’. ‘Now she feels more independent, she feels, like very, very happy and I think she’s boosted her confidence because of that earning power she’s got now’. She also reflects on how quickly Crossover acted to help her respond to local job opportunities. This, she says, has been key in helping her to get a job. She says, ‘I can’t lie, I was doing my best at the Job Centre’, but this wasn’t enough for her to get a job on her own. 

Fatima was using some of digital skills in her job, like viewing timesheets on email (which her brother helps her with) and keep in contact with her employers about what’s going on with the clients and communicating with other colleagues. With work, ‘she hasn’t got time for anything else’, and is not learning at Crossover anymore. She isn’t developing her digital skills much, but for Fatima, this was never the main thing. If she was giving advice to someone who had lost hope in getting a job, Fatima would say: ‘don’t put yourself down, do what you can and try your best. Like me, like Fatima, thought she’d never work, but she has now’.

The majority of people Fatima works with and supports speak English to her, but she is managing to get by, as Sabrina says: ‘they understand her. She gets her point across’. Fatima hopes that she’ll get to point where she doesn’t have to rely on colleagues so much to translate for her, and can do it on her own. 

Fatima is enjoying working with older people because they tell her their life stories and share photos and life experiences which makes Fatima reflect on her own life. Fatima tries to share aspects of her own life back including ‘like the clothes I wear at home, or if I take a picture, that I show to them. I am saying to them, which picture I look nice...When I go I don’t feel I’m a carer, they’re so friendly.

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