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The full story
In 2003, a young Mancunian girl set out from Leeds University to go and teach English in the South of France. When she got there, she had many difficulties finding accommodation, setting up a bank account etc. and quickly realised how hard it is for people to live in a foreign country. She also did not learn much French as she found it very difficult to meet local people. Despite the challenges, she had a great time but nevertheless, it started her thinking...
When she came home, she completed her university degree in languages and decided to travel the world in order to learn more about other people and cultures – which she thoroughly enjoyed!
Mum’s response: When are you going to get a job?
When she came back to Manchester in 2006, she wrote a business plan for a company called ‘Base Abroad’, which would be a support service helping students or anyone moving to England. Then, she decided it was too cold in England, so she went to teach in Italy. There she learned that the only real way to learn a language is to integrate as much as possible with the locals and just talk, talk, talk!
When she came back from Italy and had travelled Asia in 2007, in 2008 she started working at a language school in the centre of Manchester and, realising that teaching was her passion, she decided to do her Master’s in Teaching English.
Mum’s response: When will you get a job?
Whilst teaching and studying, the business ideas developed and the original idea had now become the dream of a language school called ‘Learn at the Square’, the ethos being a language school that would be like a meeting place for all, similar to the squares she had walked through in her time in Europe – a place where old and young, and people of all nationalities could meet and chat, passing on information and learning from each other. In February 2009, the company was officially registered.
Mum’s response: Will you ever get a real job?
Whilst teaching in Manchester and meeting international students at Salford University, she developed a strong sense of pride and honour to be representing England to people who had travelled from far and wide simply to study and to experience this country. She felt it a privilege to meet and get to know these people and realised that to travel she didn’t need to get on a plane: every day in the language school was like visiting a different country.
At the language school, the students became friends and on her university course so too did her colleagues with whom she was able to relate to regarding the difficulties they faced on a daily basis. Life abroad can be tough – and thus it reinforced to her the necessity for some kind of service providing practical, emotional and educational support to students abroad.
After completing the Master’s modules, she was invited to teach on the summer school programme at Salford University and during this time, she worked on her dissertation, which investigated the experience of Salford university students. During this time, she firmly established an international community of friends and came to understand more and more the needs of the international students.
During the dissertation research, she realised a worrying sense of people’s dissatisfaction with their experience in the UK, particularly in terms of the level of contact they had with British people and the chances they had to speak English. The research asked the question: did international students have the experience here they had expected to have and did they feel integrated into the community? The answer was a loud and disappointing: No. Something had to be done…
After the summer of teaching at the university, the demand for private lessons continued to increase and she began teaching in cafes, people’s houses, libraries and so she became self-employed…
Mum’s response: When are you going to get a job?
At that point, it was also decided that Learn at the Square was too long so Language Café was born, carrying the same concept of a relaxed meeting place for all; everyone gathered under one roof, provided with a menu of services.
During her time at the university, she had always passed a building called The Angel Centre and was curious to know what it was. One day in January 2010 she went in and found the most amazing community of people. As students had asked for group classes and she desperately needed a space, she asked if she could rent any of their rooms and low and behold, they offered her the café – the name was definitely set!
At the Angel, she grew to love Salford and the people in it. The support from the team there was amazing – thank you Scott, Simone, Emma (for always bringing the flipchart) and Natalie! And to Andy and Eileen in Creation Café who were always there for a hug and for hosting parties that really allowed students to feel part of the local community.
Whilst teaching the groups at the café in the evenings, her daytime classes were mostly in the houses of predominantly Middle Eastern women. At this time, her concern for this community in Salford and Manchester grew as she realised how isolated they and their children often were here. Here were people living in this country and having a miserable time. So, she started thinking again…
As demand grew further, she could afford the rent on a small office in the Angel Centre, also known as the yellow cupboard (for it’s yellow walls and shoebox size). She was honoured that people would travel from different countries to sit and learn English in that yellow cupboard! Now she could teach private classes in the office in the day and hire the café by night. She also started weekly international meetings in the café, a free hour when students could come to meet new people and practice their English, in order to respond to the results of the MA research.
As she became busier and busier, the Angel Centre also became fuller and fuller, and so she began pounding the pavements of Chapel Street looking for a bigger space. She had so many ideas for bringing people together and wanted to host the international as well as the local community and felt frustrated at not having the space to do so.
For months she pounded those pavements, convinced that Chapel Street was the place to be but which building? As it turned out, the dream place was right there all along…
In Bexley Square there lay the most perfect building – traditional, old English and pristine inside, with rooms just right for classrooms and as it was originally a house, it had exactly the right feel. It could be the students’ home away from home. But, the cost…The picture of the building remained on the wall of the yellow cupboard and seemed a dream far, far away…
And then one day, in October 2010, only eight months after starting the venture, a miracle happened. One of the embassies in the Middle East agreed to sponsor one of their ladies to study at Language Café. Suddenly, the dream became possible.
In November 2010, Language Café opened its doors to students and locals and has been growing steadily ever since.
In May 2011, after struggling alone for months, her mum joined her at the school and they worked together to prepare for the British Council visit. Her mum thought she was crazy to apply for accreditation so early in the venture, but eventually, they managed it and with points of excellence too. By September 2011, Language Café was the first private language second school in Salford to have the British Council stamp of approval.
Today, the focus remains on providing quality language tuition as well as support to non-natives, whilst also having a wider view to helping people to understand each other across cultures. As Salford has an increasingly diverse population, it is becoming more and more crucial that we learn to grow together as opposed to apart. Here we hope to provide a platform for communication across cultures, religions, race and backgrounds.
Most importantly, we want to look after the people who choose to live and study in our country and show them everything we have to offer here. We continue to do this by welcoming students and locals into our ‘home and family’ and through our teaching and social programmes, as well as simply offering a warm smile and a helping hand.