17 March 2022
To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we sat down with Luljeta Nuzi, Chief Executive and Founder of Shpresa Programme.
Take us back 10 years, what was it like for you and your organisation then? What were your hopes and dreams?
In 2012 we were 10 years old, and we had reached a place of trust in ourselves and a track record to demonstrate impact. We had proven that lived experience could bring about positive change and this was a real source of motivation for us as a women-led team.
We were well established and operating across London through schools and youth centres and we had secured funding to share the model and train community leaders and parents to promote integration. We had come out of the child detention campaign a few years before, and people felt they had power and a voice by being organised, and increased optimism. By being active, they could resolve issues.
We performed (dance) as a group in Stratford the day London announced it would host the games in 2012. The buzz and enthusiasm were great and it gave us the tools to do even more, get local jobs for local people, and focus on making the Olympic games the first living-wage games in the world.
We focused on how we could capitalise on ensuring our young people could benefit from this once in a lifetime opportunity. We also saw for the first time around this period second-generation migrants, not just refugees and asylum seekers and this brought a different perspective to our work.
What motivated you to work in community youth work, sport and with London Youth?
The Albanian community in the UK is fairly new so there are limited role models for young women. At Shpresa we recognised this and myself and the team worked hard to create opportunities to platform our girls and young women. As a community, we are motivated and mobilised by identity not faith, so at Shpresa we needed to create that hub of connection to reflect this.
We had always used traditional dance as an engagement tool, and through involvement with London Youth we were able to broaden our offer and introduce new sport opportunities. Young women came forward and voiced the need for more sport as well as leadership opportunities linked to social action causes. They wanted to challenge the inequalities faced by other young women, both in the Albanian community and more broadly in London, by combining sports with social action.
London Youth sports programmes like Active Leads and Champion Girls gave our young women a structure and platform to shine, and to bring to life sporting experiences beyond just our community’s traditional activities. If we hadn’t been part of London Youth, the young women just wouldn’t have had that exposure and it’s been so beneficial to their longer term integration and personal development.
How have you changed in the last 10 years, what has changed for young women in your community?
People feel safe and more informed about opportunities, more active and in-the-know. Immigration and right to work is still a huge issue and we see people’s best years literally being frozen, which contributes towards poor mental health. Partnership is the way to resolve this, but this takes time.
We address this by creating welcoming, active hubs, where training and learning is encouraged, there’s access to food, and young women can develop key community skills to integrate. Plus, we have created our own mental health hub for the Albanian community.
Young women need us to offer one-to-one relationships to build that trust, particularly when they have experienced trauma at such a young age, like being trafficked. Our community is split into two; for the settled community it’s about equality of access and it’s about inspiring them and introducing them to opportunities and ensuring they can succeed, be that in sport, education or personal skill development.
Then, for those with non-settled status, we are dealing with much more holistic issues like access to key services such as immigration support, language barriers, mental health support, right to work. But, for this group, sport is welcoming and gives them a safe space, improves their mental health and helps them create much needed networks and not be judged. It’s opened their eyes beyond a hobby and the possibilities of a career pathway in the future. But, importantly, for many who have been forced to grow up so quickly because of their life experiences, it allows them to be children and young people and retain that joy and freedom that is often lacking in most parts of their lives.
What is in place to support women to #BreakTheBias at Shpresa?
We use a social entrepreneurship model and community organising model and practice for our young women, this means investing in them as leaders now and for the future and never doing something for them when they can do it themselves; we empower young women from the outset. Our volleyball sessions are a great example, rather than just bringing in a coach, we asked the young women to research the sport and take responsibility for their peers.
We are so proud of Alda, Amanda and now Amina, who are on London Youth’s youth board or have been in the past. Alda developed herself at Shpresa through sport and education, but then went off to university in America. She is now an inspiration for other young Albanian women.
On International Women’s Day, we celebrated 20 years of leadership as a group of Albanian women. We started Shpresa as a group of young women, and we are now flourishing and we find the strength to go day by day because people are reliant on us, and we can’t give up.
Our ethos as women has been dream what you want to be, and then make it happen.
What would you say to your younger self based on your experiences from the past decade knowing what you know now?
The UK is a place where your dreams can come true, but you need to know what to do and where to do it and have the confidence to ask. Finding that confidence could be your key to unlocking success. Dreams are not just there to be dreams, they are there to be a reality. But, unless you put the work in, it won’t come to you, and you must learn from success and failures. Opportunities are there for women and girls like they are for men and boys, we just need to instil the confidence and self-belief in our young women to go after them.
London Youth has been a true partner to us, both as a connection to other communities and upskilling of our staff of women, but also in ensuring our young women access to opportunities that allow them to showcase their talent as well as celebrate their proud Albanian heritage.