May 2021 - Capital City College Group
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American football flags up the dangers of violent crime to students

Students participated in a game of American football as part of a series of college events to deter them from violent crime.

Around 250 students at the College of Haringey Enfield and North East London (CONEL) have participated in anti-crime related activities this academic year.

In the year prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, the number of killings in London increased by nearly a quarter from 115 to 142 and fatal stabbings rose by 28 per cent.

Twelve young people have been fatally stabbed in the capital this year including two in Haringey.

The 12-week Exodus programme run by coaching and development consultancy UpskillU mentored students on knife crime, gangs, county lines and criminal exploitation followed by a game of NFL Flag to improve physical wellbeing.

NFL Flag is a version of American football where instead of tackling players the defensive team must remove a flag from an opposing player carrying the ball.

Students later joined an online chat with anti-knife crime campaigner Yvonne Lawson, the mother of Godwin Lawson, who was stabbed to death in Hackney in March 2010.

Applied Science course student Adanwali Jamal, 20, from Hackney, said: ““I felt very sad hearing Yvonne Lawson tell her story about how Godwin had a good future and how she lost him to knife crime.

“Last year I had an accident on my bike and went to hospital and there was a young man crying because he had got in a fight and been stabbed in the leg.

“There is too much knife crime in London. If someone gets too close to you, you’re always scared they might be carrying a knife. It’s good that the college is teaching us how to be safe.”

Students also participated in six-week workshops run by mentoring charity Manhood Academy Global focusing on self-awareness, peer pressure, crime and education.

Other sessions included a four-week programme run by CONEL looking at the realities of gang crime and legal implications of carrying a knife, and the Aspire programme run by The Safety Box on changing negative behaviour and attitudes.

The activities were supported by the Young Londoners Fund, an initiative run by the Mayor of London to help children and young people potentially at risk of getting into crime.

Anthony Robinson, Head of Learner Experience and Industry Placements at CONEL, said: “Knife and gang-related crime has hugely increased in London over the past decade, and resulted in the exploitation, injury and death of many vulnerable young people.

“By offering these activities and mentoring programmes, with the support of the Young Londoners Fund, the college is providing the help, advice and guidance they need to make the right life choices and discourage them from getting involved in crime.”

Find out more about enrichment, support and student life.

Young chefs named runners up in Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year

Two aspiring chefs from Westminster Kingsway College are heading in the right direction after being named runners up in the Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year.

Nathan Racey and Dylan Patel were awarded silver and bronze place in the competition run by contract catering and hospitality provider Compass Group UK.

The pair competed alongside other four other young chefs to create a three-course meal in three hours at the company’s head office in Chertsey, Surrey.

The competition was judged by a panel headed up by Michelin-starred celebrity chef Marcus Wareing.

Nathan, 19, from Braintree, Essex, who is completing a Chef de Partie apprenticeship with catering company Levy UK, served up a roast pigeon starter, a main course of halibut, crispy oyster and artichoke followed by a lemon posset for dessert.

He said: “I went into the competition with the intention to win but it didn’t quite go my way. It was still a good experience and good to have two apprentices from WestKing in the top three. I also got to meet Marcus Wareing and got his feedback, which was really inspiring.

“I was confident with my dishes and happy with all my flavours. I would’ve like to have done a couple of things differently to refine them, but overall I was pleased with how they turned out.

“I have taken part in a couple of competitions, and every time you come out a stronger chef and take things you’ve learnt into the next. You are working in an intense environment, infusing flavours and creating menus and dishes, which you can take anywhere else.”

Dylan, 24, from Hounslow, who is undertaking a Commis Chef apprenticeship with Restaurant Associates Group, cooked an Indian inspired menu.

He started with crispy fried Dover sole and a selection of chutneys followed by a main course of roasted guinea fowl, aloo gobi and makhana sauce. His dessert was a carrot halwa with pistachio ice cream.

Dylan said: “This was my first competition and it was a great experience. It was quite tense. There were a lot of spices to each element and I only had a minute left when it was plated up to be served.

“Because of lockdown I’ve only worked for three months on my apprenticeship, but I’ve still been coming into college once a week to practise with my tutor Nick Gunyon. I don’t think I would’ve come in the top three if it wasn’t for him.

“The competition has boosted my confidence in the kitchen at home and at work. I’ve learnt to refine my dishes, shown more attention to detail and brought up the standard of my cooking than when I first started.”

Marcus praised all the finalists in the competition, which was also judged by Nick Vadis, Culinary Director of Compass Group UK and Paul Mannering and Mark Belford, from HIT Training.

He said: “It takes a very brave chef to enter into a competition. When you spend your time working in teams, especially at apprenticeship level, to compete on your own can be hard.

“I judged the semi-finals as well, and from then to today all I can say is wow! What an amazing achievement. Every single finalist has improved so much in such a short space of time – you’ve gone home and studied your menus and that really showed today.”

Jonathan Foot, Head of Apprenticeships and Early Careers at Compass Group UK & Ireland, said: “It’s been so rewarding to watch all the apprentices who took part and demonstrated their resilience, determination and skills. This competition is evidence of the benefits of apprenticeships in supporting the skills development of our future talent.”

WestKing is one of the country’s leading providers of Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses and apprenticeships, with many of its alumni established chefs in top restaurants.

Congratulating both apprentices, Nick Gunyon, Curriculum Manager for Hospitality Apprenticeships, said: “During his time at college, Nathan has been developing the skills he has been learning in the workplace and driven them forward in his competition work. He has shown amazing talent and is definitely one to watch in the future.

“Dylan has made the best use of his time during lockdown by entering the competition, creating his chosen dishes and practising them at college. He has a fantastic attitude, and as a young chef in his first year of cooking he has already achieved so much.”

Apply now for Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses and apprenticeships.

Former City and Islington College student gives school pupils a sporting chance during pandemic

A former student at City and Islington College has been boosting children’s mental health through sport during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ross McCarthy, 24, has worked as a Sports Coach with Badu Sports since achieving triple distinction on a Sports Science diploma at the college in 2015.

He returned to education part time in September 2019 and is studying for a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Studies at London Metropolitan University.

Badu Sports works with schools and the community to provide physical education and mentoring to improve children’s skills and support their development.

Ross provides sports coaching and mentoring for children at St Matthias Church of England Primary School in Stoke Newington, five days a week.

He explained how COVID-19 had affected the children and how his work with Badu Sports had helped them during the crisis to develop physically and in the classroom.

He said: “Lockdown had a huge impact on the children. They were tired and their concentration was low because they had not been able to go out and be active.

“Taking part in sport and exercise has really helped them. Within three weeks the teachers told me they were more alert in lessons and their work had improved.

“I’ve tried to be a rock for them during the pandemic as they slowly get back to their usual routine again. Everyone at the school is working hard to get them back to the level they were at or even better.”

Ross has also undertaken courses in football coaching and fitness instructing, and in his spare time he plays football for the Badu Sports team and goes to the gym regularly.

He said: “Keeping your mind and body active is good for mental health. It makes you happy and is a good stress reliever. It gives you a freedom to forget about your worries. There is no better feeling.”

Ross, who is from Hackney, is studying his degree part-time to enable him to continue working with Badu Sports and fulfil his aspiration to become a teacher.

“The course at CANDI was amazing and I enjoyed every minute of it. Every module was exciting, and it made me love sport so much more,” said Ross.

“I’ve recommended it to so many people and hope to come back one day to see my old teachers, who all wanted their students to do their best.

“One of them said I would be a teacher one day and I laughed, but how right he was.”

Badu Sports provides sport and mentoring to 22,000 young people aged three to 19 in Hackney, Islington Haringey and Tower Hamlets.

Click here to apply for our Sports Science courses.

Young chef praises ‘exceptional support’ at WestKing in top industry magazine

A young chef has praised the support he received during his culinary training at Westminster Kingsway College in an article for a top industry magazine.

Guy Sherman, 18, shared his experience at the college after being asked to write a piece for the Future Stars section of this month’s edition of Chef.

He attended a Young Chefs’ Academy course at WestKing when he was 15 and a year later began a Commis Chef apprenticeship with the college at The Dorchester in Park Lane, where he is now taking a Chef de Partie apprenticeship.

While at college he learned traditional French cookery techniques, cooked for and served customers in the college’s training restaurants, and learnt about the history of legendary culinary figure Auguste Escoffier.

Guy applied for a work placement at The Dorchester and worked in The Grill and the main restaurant of the hotel where he began to hone his culinary skills across the kitchen.

In the article for Chef, he wrote: “I cannot put into words the excitement I felt every morning as I returned to work. I worked so hard and new I had to secure a place at the best hotel in London! From there I was offered my dream … my apprenticeship at The Dorchester hotel. This was incredible.”

Guy, who lives in Barnet, has been mentored on his apprenticeship by Executive Chef Mario Perera and his team who have shared their knowledge and skills with him.

His time at WestKing has been valuable too.

Guy continued: “The support from the college has been exceptional, always pushing me to enter new competitions. In the middle of 2020 I entered the International Salon Culinarie where I produced over four dishes … From this prestigious event I managed to walk away with two medals.”

Guy began cooking when he was four, learning the basics from his mum. At the age of nine he was chosen from hundreds of entries to compete on the BBC cookery show Junior Masterchef and a year later he appeared on ITV’s The Munch Box.

In 2017 he won a national competition celebrating 30 years of Waitrose Duchy Organic products, where his winning dish was served to HRH The Prince of Wales.

Guy hopes to travel the world and one day be the Executive Chef of his own restaurant.

Nick Gunyon, Curriculum Manager for Hospitality Apprenticeships, said: “Right from the start, Guy was a good student showing good skills that he developed throughout the course. He always pushed boundaries with presentation, experimenting and perfecting dishes every week. He was a pleasure to teach.”

Apply now for Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses and apprenticeships.

Engineering students turn town planners at UrbanPlan workshop

Engineering students at Westminster Kingsway College put their planning and business skills to the test when they were tasked with redeveloping a site in a fictional town.

Three teams of six students took part in the workshop run by UrbanPlan UK, an educational initiative to help students learn about urban regeneration.

They were asked to form property companies responding to a council request to redevelop a town centre with each team member given a specific role in the process.

The students had to reconcile competing agendas to create a well-designed and sustainable development that met the needs of the town.

They discussed financial, market and political forces as well as design issues before creating a computer-generated 3D model of their proposal.

Each team presented their proposal to a group of quantity surveyors acting as council representatives who would award a contract to the best design.

The students from the winning property company called Essential Innovation Developments were Kimberley Akingbehin, Kieran Ammon, Sinem Bozkurt, Jayue Desai, Deimante Labinaite and Youcef Remmouche.

They came up with a balanced, financially viable design for their town centre that was not overcrowded, had plenty of green spaces and met the needs of the community.

Kimberley, 17, from Lambeth, said: “I want to become a project manager, and this really gave me an insight into the skills that are needed for that kind of role.

“We learnt how to interact and listen to each other’s opinions, take them into account and sometimes compromise and came to a mutual agreement as a team.”

UrbanPlan began running interactive workshops across the United States in 2003 and in recent years has branched out to schools and colleges in Europe and Asia.

In the UK the project has reached more than 3.500 pupils and students since its launch in 2014 with the support of over 600 industry volunteers across the country.

Joao Duarte, Lecturer in Physics and Engineering at Westminster Kingsway, said: “The UrbanPlan challenge was an amazing experience where our students sampled a real-world engineering scenario. They planned the regeneration of a rundown town centre taking into account design, financial and social aspects; all in a fast-paced and competitive environment mimicking real life.

“It was a great opportunity for the students to learn about property development, as well as developing skills such as team-working and effective communication skills which are so highly sought in the job market.”

WestKing regularly works in partnership with employers and organisations to provide opportunities for students to gain work-related skills to help them achieve their career goals.

Find out more and apply for Engineering courses.

Students gear up for future careers with Royal Navy officers

Students boosted their fitness and skills when they took part in an exciting day of mountain biking, treetop pursuits and outdoor challenges with the Royal Navy.

Around 35 students from the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) joined in the activities at Swinley Bike Hub and Go Ape in Swinley Forest near Bracknell, Berkshire.

They were led by Lieutenant Commander Russ Haines and Warrant Officers Philip Bolton and Janice Scott from the Royal Navy, and Brendan Berry, CONEL’s Curriculum Manager for Public Services.

The students from the college’s Public Services, Sport and Key Stage 4 courses cycled through the forest, climbed trees, swung through woods, crossed rope bridges and whizzed down zip wires.

The Royal Navy officers also ran several group challenges including finding a casualty in the forest and taking them to a designated location where they could be rescued.

Zee Coskun, 19, from Hackney, who has aspirations to join the Metropolitan Police, said: “The mountain biking was great, and it felt good to be out and around people again. It really put us to the test, but we kept on going and motivated each other and I’m glad I did it.

“The team building and leadership exercises with the Royal Navy gave me more confidence in my communication and motivational skills. I learnt a lot, and I am sure other students have as well.”

Justice Bonsu, 21, from Greenwich, who hopes to join the Armed Forces, said: “It was an amazing experience and has given me so much more confidence. It was my first time leading a small team. It improved my communication and problem-solving skills.

“The ziplining was incredible. I was terrified the first time I went down it, but I am very proud that I did it. I couldn’t have done something like that a few years ago.”

Public Services and Sport students are required to undertake several fitness activities during their studies, which they are assessed on as part of their diplomas.

COVID-19 has meant some activities had to be cancelled over the past year or had to take place on college sites instead, such as public order training with the Metropolitan Police.

Lt Cdr Haines was impressed with how well the college had worked with the Royal Navy to provide activities for students in a COVID-safe environment.

He said: “It’s been great working with an organisation that shares the Royal Navy’s passion for developing others and helping a diverse range of young people to learn fundamental life skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication that will help them in defining their future careers.”

Brendan Berry, Curriculum Manager for Public Services, said: “During the second lockdown it was clear that to rebuild the morale and mental health in our students we had to re-engage them in practical activity in a COVID-safe environment.

“To get the students back out into the great outdoors has been our key driver since March and working with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines we looked at the best way to create a range of activities that would re-energise them academically and holistically.

“Swinley Forest was perfect for providing outstanding days for our students after the year of all years. To see our students engaged in practical activity and growing their teamwork, leadership and individual practical skills has been fantastic.”

This activity was funded by the Young Londoners Fund.

Apply now for Public Services and Sport courses.

Want to be a Winner? Former Arsenal Chief Shares Top Tips for Success

Former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein MBE recently inspired students at City and Islington College (CANDI) to achieve their life goals by sharing the secrets of his success.

In a live online chat arranged with the charity Speakers for Schools, he urged them to show values of hard work, vision and courage during their studies and future careers.

During his 24-year tenure at the club, the Gunners won 18 trophies including five league titles, five FA Cups, two League Cups and the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup. David was also instrumental in the formation of the Premier League. He was also a former vice-chairman of the Football Association and served on numerous UEFA and FIFA committees.

He said: “Every successful person I’ve ever met in my life over the years, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Alan Sugar, they’ve all had the same three qualities: hard work – you will not get anywhere in life unless you’re prepared to work hard; vision – you’ve got to know where you want to get to in life; and courage – you have got to have the determination to get there.”

David recalled how he grew up watching Arsenal with his uncle on the North Bank at Highbury and would play football three times a week as a teenager. After buying his first share in the club he later sent a handwritten letter with a blank cheque to the board to subscribe for more. He would eventually own a 42 per cent share of the club.

“I knew they would have to answer me, and they did. They invited me to an interview and from there I got onto the board and the rest is history. I live by the motto of the turtle, which is you don’t get anywhere unless you stick your neck out,” he said.

Looking back at his education he was pleased that he’d listened to his A Level French teacher, as in later life he ended up working with Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger and players including Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Viera, Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka.

He said: “I would’ve loved to have been a professional footballer but very, very few people get to the top and can do it. I’m very pleased that I enjoyed school and very pleased I listened to my teachers. This is a message to all the students – your teachers are there to help you. This is your moment in time to accumulate as much knowledge as you can. It will be the launching pad for your careers, so really take it seriously. Don’t waste this moment, it’s a golden moment of your lives.”

David revealed that when he joined Arsenal in 1983 the club’s turnover was £1.5 million but through his involvement and realisation of the Premier League it was now £450 million. He explained he disliked the words ‘if’ and ‘maybe’ and urged students to be decision-makers. He also told them never be frightened of a challenge and see any problem as an opportunity.

David said: “No matter how successful anyone is today, don’t think they haven’t had reversals. Everybody does. Nothing goes in a straight line. There will always be times when there’s a dip, but in a way that’s nature’s way of saying you’ve got to work harder, think of what you did wrong and go again. Don’t turn your back on it, take it head on. Bring people in with you. It’s very rare anyone can do anything by themselves. If you’re building up an organisation you need people around you and to work as a team. I’ve always tried to assemble a winning team, that’s been my ethos.”

David told students to always look at “going up another rung of the ladder” by thinking about what they can achieve each day and how they are going to make their life better each year. He concluded by giving students his six tips for job and university interviews – be punctual, look smart, make eye contact, give a firm handshake, smile and ask questions.

Click here to find out more about Student Life at CANDI.

Former business student lands job with BP after impressing on work placement

A former business student who impressed on a work experience placement with BP while at college has landed a job with the oil and gas giant.

Elizabeth Daka, 22, undertook a six-week internship with the company while studying a Business Level 3 Extended Diploma at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) in 2016.

She was supervised on placement by Christina O’Donovan-Rossa, BP’s then Head of HR Global Functions – Integrated Supply and Trading, and Sue McKenzie, then PA to the company’s UK HR Director, as part of the Career Ready programme.

After successfully passing her Business diploma, Elizabeth went on to graduate with a degree in Human Resource Management from the University of Hertfordshire.

She kept in touch with staff at BP while at university and has now landed a job as a Trading Operations Co-ordinator after being directly approached by the company.

Elizabeth, from Enfield, said: “I remember receiving a call asking if I would be interested in this role as they thought I would be a suitable candidate. I went for an interview and after a few weeks they called to say I had been offered the role. I was so excited.”

In her new job Elizabeth is responsible for all aspects of oil and gas trading across Europe including processing invoices, shipping contracts and product transportation.

She said: “I was looking to pursue a career in HR for a long time, but one thing I’ve learnt is that you actually never know where your career will go. You have to be open to exploring different options because so many skills are transferable. You never know where they will take you.”

Career Ready is a charity that works with educators and employers to help prepare young people for work. While on the programme Elizabeth organised a careers event at CONEL and invited BP staff to talk about their roles.

She said: “Career Ready really prepared me for working in the corporate world. My mentors helped me through my time at BP and both motivated me in different ways. I went from being shy and timid to being more confident and striving for greater things for myself.

“As long as you have a positive mindset and work hard, the sky’s the limit.”

Elizabeth also praised the help and support she received from her tutors at CONEL, that helped her to gain her diploma and the skills and knowledge needed for her career.

Betty Benjamin, Lecturer in Business at CONEL, said: “Through her studies at college and on the Career Ready programme, Elizabeth discovered her skills and career path. We are glad to have made such an impact on her life.”

Click here to apply now for Business courses.

CCCG Help Enterpreneurs Build Sustainable Fashion Company

Entrepreneurs Nicolas and Julia Vendramin launched their new fashion company and website – – on Saturday 1 May. We caught up with Nicolas before the launch, to talk about their venture, their story, the community they want to build, and the support and advice that Nicolas in particular received from Visionnaires and Capital City College Training, both part of Capital City College Group, along the way.

Hello Nicolas, tell us about LABELL-D, your new start-up. It’s a sustainable fashion company isn’t it? What does that mean to you and Julia?

“We have both worked in fashion for more than 15 years, but with LABELL-D, we feel that we have finally found our purpose in the industry.

“In my fashion career I worked for companies including Hugo Boss, Bally and Harrys of London, in a variety of finance and merchandising roles, but I also knew that the industry is very polluting in its nature, and I wanted to do something about that. We’ve always been passionate about sustainable living and about 12 months ago, we decided to set-up our own company to sell sustainable fashion. The idea had been in my mind for a few years, but two things really accelerated our thinking: the birth of our daughter two and a half years ago and the COVID pandemic.”

And that’s where Visionnaires, our social enterprise, and our training arm, Capital City College Training came in, isn’t it? How did we help you?

“To be honest, I can’t recall exactly how I found out about the programme called Start Up Step Up London, it provides workshops, mentoring and coaching to help start-up businesses get off the ground], but it was a real help to me.

“Because I’ve always worked in big companies, I guess I have always thought big too – ten steps ahead – but Wendy, my tutor, brought me down to earth and reminded me that a new business has to start from zero. She and the 6-week course that she taught was very pragmatic and helped me focus on the basics and get them right first. The course sessions took place before the COVID-19 lockdowns started and it was great to be able to learn in-person, with other entrepreneurs, rather than remotely.”

And then we put you in touch with a mentor didn’t we?

“Yes. We had a Visionnaires mentor matchmaking event where I met Oreste Maspes. Oreste is a fellow Italian and has experience in the fashion and textile industry, and has worked in the consumer electronics, document imaging and printing sectors too.

“We bonded straight away and, as part of the programme, I had 5 hours of one-to-one mentoring with him. Oreste is very strategic and analytical and he pushed us hard – really looking at the strengths and weaknesses of our proposition and our strategy.”

That sounds really good. And since then, you’ve been working hard to set the company and your website up?

“That’s right. We took a couple of days off over Easter and it was the first time we’ve had off in months! We now have a beta version of our website which has already had a few sales. We’ve been testing and getting feedback on the site and we are working on getting the user experience right – making changes so that buying through the website is a great experience for customers – and we’re launching to the public on 1 May.”

What sort of clothes do you offer?

“LABELL-D has garments from a wide range of great brands big and small including Acne Studios, Nike, R3unite, Ecoalf, Burberry, Stella McCartney, Patagonia and Gucci, with others coming on all the time. Our items are all sustainable in how they are produced and our collections include many items which have recycled, organic, bio-based and sustainably sourced materials.

“For example, the uppers of our Nike Space Hippie trainers are made from recycled plastic bottles, T-Shirts and yarn scraps, and our Patagonia beanie hats are Fair Trade Certified – which means that the people who sew them are paid a premium for their work – and they are made from a blend of recycled wool and recycled nylon.

“It’s wonderful to see the site taking shape and we are really excited for the launch. But beyond the launch, we want to do more. We want to build a community of customers who care as passionately as we do about the social and environmental performance of their clothes. We will inform and educate them about the actions that brands have taken on their road to sustainability and we’ll show our customers how the products we sell have been produced and certified. The website is”

Thank you Nicolas. It’s been great talking to you.

Start Up Step Up London is an entrepreneur training programme delivered by Capital City College Group’s training arm Capital City College Training in partnership with Visionnaires and co-funded by the European Social Fund and the Mayor of London. It brings together the capital’s vast business support offer into a single resource, giving entrepreneurs the tools to make their business idea a reality – find out more here.

Congolese refugee has ‘purpose in life’ after gaining job in childcare

Rebecca Mbele, from Tottenham, tells how she fled war-torn Congo to start a new life in the UK and secured her lifelong dream of working with children.

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rebecca Mbele would often care for her younger siblings and children of relatives and family friends at the age of 10.

Despite a rich wealth of minerals and natural resources, DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world following years of civil and international war from 1996-97 and 1998-2003. The conflicts and their aftermath have caused millions of fatalities amid continued unrest.

Rebecca lived with her parents, older sister and three younger brothers in the capital Kinshasa, the largest city in Africa with a population of 15 million. She is proud of her Congolese roots and recalled a happy childhood and enjoyed looking after her younger siblings and other children when they came to visit. Together they would play games, make dolls, pretend to cook, draw pictures and sing.

“The men would watch TV and discuss the news and politics and the women would be in the kitchen, and I would sit in a corner and play with the children. I felt honoured that their parents trusted me to look after their little ones,” said Rebecca, 44, who now lives in Tottenham.

According to Unicef, 7 million children in the DRC aged 5 to 17 are not in school due to the cost – despite the country’s government decreeing primary education should be free – and the vast majority of the country’s children have no pre-school education.

“There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child,” said Rebecca.

“There aren’t many places your parents can leave you when they go to work, so you would stay with a relative, neighbour or family friend in the community. For your children to go to a nursery, you had to be earning a lot of money. It was not an option for us.”

Rebecca left school in 1995 aged 18 after passing the Examen d’Etat, the Congolese equivalent of the French baccalauréat, and began studying economics at Université William Booth in Kinshasa.

Civil war broke out in DRC the following year with the country in political turmoil and economic decline, which spilled over into Uganda and Sudan. The conflict escalated when Rwanda invaded DRC and was later joined by more states including Uganda, Burundi, Angola and Eritrea.

Despite only lasting seven months, the war caused widespread destruction with hundreds of thousands of people killed or displaced. Rebecca’s family were forced to move further out of Kinshasa and she had no choice but to give up her studies.

She said: “The lifestyle we had was gone. I could feel it in the house. The country was getting worse and worse and there were fewer jobs. If you didn’t know people, you didn’t get work. I was crying on my bed every single night thinking, what is this life?”

CONEL 2018 Excellence Award

During her studies Rebecca had met and got engaged to another student. He was also a political activist wanted by the Congolese government and fled the country in 1996.

“For a whole year there was no communication. No one heard from him or knew where he was. I was sad, confused and deeply worried. I thought it was finished and he was gone,” she said.

His aunt in the UK later wrote to tell his family he had arrived as a refugee and was safe.

The first war came to an end when President Mobutu was overthrown but political tensions and hostility continued under rebel leader Laurent-Desiré Kabilia, leading to the second conflict that would last five years. Fearing for her own safety, Rebecca flew to the UK to be with her fiancé.

They set up home in Camden and arranged a traditional Congolese wedding and would go on to have four children. Attending baby clubs and nurseries with her own children further sparked her interest in an education career.

She said: “I’m so glad they went. It helped them to communicate with other children, how to play and share toys. At that age, it is so important for their development. I would see how the staff set things up and would get down to the children’s level to speak to them. It was amazing to see, and I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”

Rebecca enrolled on an Early Years Practitioner Level 2 Diploma at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) and went on to study Supporting Teaching and Learning Level 3 Certificate. She received an Excellence Award from CONEL in 2018.

She is now working for N Family Club, an early years education provider with nurseries across London and the South East, having started her career at Pembury House Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Haringey where she undertook a placement while at college.

Rebecca said: “CONEL gave me the chance to truly believe in myself and prepare for my dream career. I was blessed to have had the most amazing, kind and caring teachers. I am so proud and amazed when I look at what I have achieved. I now know where I am and where I am going. I am happy and have a purpose in my life, and nothing can stop me.”

Apply now for Childcare and Early Years courses.

Queen's Award for Enterprise