“5 Minutes With …” Interviews to celebrate our 5th Birthday

To celebrate our 5th Birthday, we spent 5 minutes with 5 key faces (virtually, of course) from our first five years.


Breaking Barriers

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5 Minutes With…

To celebrate our 5th Birthday, we spent 5 minutes with 5 key faces (virtually, of course) from our first five years. So take a 5 minute break to check out the interviews below, and keep an eye on this blog throughout the week, when we’ll launch the rest of the ‘5 Minutes With..’ series.

Matthew Powell, our CEO and Founder

Breaking Barriers is the brainchild of founder Matthew Powell who realised, while doing a Master’s degree in international development at the London School of Economics, how little support was available to help refugees integrate into society once they had been granted asylum status.


1. Why did you start Breaking Barriers? What was the inspiration behind it?

I have always been entrepreneurial from a young age and I have always wanted to start and run my own businesses. In my early twenties I became intellectually fascinated by the topic of migration – more specifically forced displacement. I did a research project on the integration outcomes of refugees in the UK and that provided the foundations for why Breaking Barriers needed to exist.

Breaking Barriers allowed me to combine my entrepreneurialism and my passion for migration.

2. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced over the past 5 years?

The greatest challenge for Breaking Barriers was certainly the first couple of years – financially. I knew we had a service that was so desperately needed – needed by the refugee community but also society, however the struggle was how do we go about sustainable funding this thing. Without a decent track record it was nigh on impossible to attract income through traditional routes, so there was a lot of innovative thinking and living hand to mouth for a period of time. That was the most stressful period for me personally – fortunately we kept plugging away and the impact we were having was picked up by a number of businesses and donors, and we are where we are now!

3. What’s your proudest accomplishment at Breaking Barriers?

There’s been lots of things that I’ve been extremely proud of over the last few years – some of the incredible achievements of our clients, the growth and development of our staff – but the one that stands out, in terms of legacy and impact that Breaking Barriers has is the global announcement made by IKEA’s global CEO in 2019 that they would commit to supporting 2,500 refugees through job training and language skills in 300 of its stores in 30 countries by 2022. We started our partnership with IKEA 3 years ago and it was our case study that influenced the CEO to make this decision – one conversation that started between two people 4 years ago has led to a commitment that is going to positively impact the lives of thousands globally over the next few years – and lay down a blueprint for other businesses to do the same.

4. Where do you see Breaking Barriers in another 5 years’ time?

I see Breaking Barriers continuing to deliver outstanding work at a greater scale in another 5 years time. We can no longer describe ourselves as a young, small charity – we have the foundations in place – both in terms of programmes and infrastructure – to become one of the leading charities in the charity sector over the next 5 years. If we stick to our mission, our vision and live by our values, I have no doubt our growth over the last few years will be sustained into those coming.

5. If you could sum up Breaking Barriers in 5 words, what would they be?

I’ll sum it up in 4, and it would have to be our values, of course! Mission-Led, Enterprising, Welcoming and Collaborative…


Beilqes enrolled with our services in February 2018. She appeared in our 2018 Photography Exhibition ‘A New Beginning’ and after completing a work placement at one of our corporate partners, she secured a permanent role in her desired field of work. We’re so proud of how far Beilqes has come!


1. How did you hear about Breaking Barriers?

When I got my residency papers, I went to see Refugee Council because I wanted to find work. I had zero work experience, my English was limited but the main thing was my confidence. Everything was zero. I was scared. I needed to secure my life here, and I needed someone to help me stand up on my feet again. Refugee Council supported me where they could but I really wanted help with my CV and support to find a job, so they referred me to Breaking Barriers who would they told me would offer tailored support to help me find a job and continue my life.

2. Can you remember how you felt when you first visited Breaking Barriers and met with your Employment Adviser?

That day, I will not forget it. Never. Why? You know when someone is scared and you finally see a family member and you hug them. It was like that, I was scared, crying most of the time, I had no confidence. So when I met Hannah-Rivkah at Breaking Barriers, I kept crying. Finally I found a person who listened to me. I quickly learnt that Breaking Barriers doesn’t treat you like everyone else, they tailor their support according to the person’s needs and even your personality and feelings.

My Employment Adviser sometimes told me “this will not work with you, I know you.” She understood me like a person she’s known for a long time. I liked this a lot.

My first face to face appointment was amazing. I really wanted to be independent and strong so I could support my family, I wanted to work so much. But I felt impatient. Breaking Barriers helped me to take everything step by step, so I felt less scared and less impatient.

 3. Did the support you received from Breaking Barriers differ from what you first expected?

Definitely. I expected Breaking Barriers to be like any other charity. But I knew very early on that Breaking Barriers was my family. The family that supports refugees to find a job. The people who support you and follow you step by step. They keep calling you, checking up on you, asking about you. I don’t know how they do it! They are a small organisation but they have such a big impact on people’s lives.

4. What would you like to see Breaking Barriers doing in 5 years’ time to support refugees?

I’d like to see Breaking Barriers have more offices and centres around London, so more refugees can access the services. In 5 years’ time, I think you’ll have a huge number of volunteers, meaning more English classes and support. I think you will be a big and strong organisation like the British Red Cross.

5. If you could sum up Breaking Barriers in 5 words, what would they be?

Supportive, Understanding, Friendly, Informative and (most importantly) Family!

Hiliary, Jenkins, Sustainability Business Partner at IKEA

Hiliary works in the IKEA UK & Ireland Sustainability team and has been involved in our partnership since it started in 2017. We have been working in collaboration with IKEA to improve employment prospects for refugees living in the UK through a piloted Customer Service Course programme in their Tottenham, Croydon, Wembley and Greenwich stores. This includes IKEA offering permanent jobs for Breaking Barriers clients. More than 150 refugees have received support from the partnership between Breaking Barriers and IKEA, with 29 gaining permanent jobs.


1. Why were IKEA interested in partnering with Breaking Barriers?

Looking back to 2016, as the Syrian refugee crisis continued, IKEA as a global company made a huge commitment to supporting the refugee crisis. So here in the UK we started looking at what we could do to make the most positive impact on refugees in the community living around our stores. We quickly realised that meaningful employment was the fastest way to help refugees integrate into society and live a full and more beneficial life.

We spoke to a number of charities including Breaking Barriers and we felt that as a young and innovative charity, they were agile and would be open to working together to develop a new way of working in order to help vulnerable people, at the same time as taking into account IKEA’s USP’s as a company, in order to create an effective, shared-value partnership.

2. Has your experience as a partner been different to what you expected it to be?

Yes I think it has, if anything it’s been more positive than I expected. We have faced a lot of challenges and both our organisations have gone through a lot of change whilst in partnership, but we have both learnt to be dynamic and adapt. It hasn’t been a rigid partnership, we’ve had to be really collaborative and reinvent the partnership over the years. Being honest and open with each other has helped us make things happen and create a productive and positive experience.

3. What has been the most rewarding part of working with Breaking Barriers?

The most rewarding part has definitely been personally meeting some of the refugees we have supported. I’ll never forget the first Assessment Centre we held in IKEA Tottenham in 2017, hearing personal stories from such an amazing and resilient group of people is really grounding and makes you feel incredibly lucky, but makes you want to help more.

It has been so nice to watch some of Breaking Barriers’ clients join the IKEA team and progress through their employment journey with us. We are all about togetherness and family at IKEA, so when you hear or see how their job at IKEA has transformed their life in the UK, it feels really rewarding to be part of that.

4. How would you like to see charity partnerships looking over the next 5 years?

I’d like to see charity partnerships become more strategic and leverage more on the company’s unique expertise and what they have to offer. Charity’s should take advantage of what the company is good at and come up with really meaningful shared-value partnerships, like we have with Breaking Barriers.

5. If you could sum up Breaking Barriers in 5 words, what would they be?

Innovative, solution-focused, agile, meaningful, life-changing!

Watch this video to see Samer’s journey into employment at IKEA and learn more about our partnership.

Jolie Powell, Advice & Guidance Volunteer

Jolie has been volunteering at Breaking Barriers since 2018. She meets with our clients at our Clapham Junction Delivery Centre and supports them with Information, Advice and Guidance on searching and applying for jobs, preparing for interviews and completing university applications. Jolie has volunteered a huge amount of her time to Breaking Barriers, and we can’t thank her enough.


1.  Why did you choose to start volunteering at Breaking Barriers?

I chose to start volunteering at Breaking Barriers shortly after my return to the UK. I had spent 15 years living abroad in three different countries and I knew from first-hand experience how it feels to find yourself in a new country with no friends or family around you, and limited understanding of the culture and norms. At the time I also had a growing concern for immigrants and asylum seekers, having observed through the media the horrors of the 2015 refugee crisis. So I felt I had some empathy with people who had recently arrived in the UK from a foreign land (even though the circumstances of their immigration were vastly different from mine). From a professional point of view, I was then at a stage in my career where I wanted to give something back. I really felt that by sharing the skills and experience I had gained from working in the international business world, I could not only help others but also broaden my own outlook.

2. What’s your favourite memory of volunteering at Breaking Barriers?

My favourite memory of volunteering at Breaking Barriers was a celebratory lunch with clients, volunteers and staff. Everyone was encouraged to bring in a dish from their country to share with the group and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about countries and cultures that were new to me. The highlight was when one of our clients played us a video of her refugee choir singing ‘Lean on Me’ in a BBC recording studio. It was uplifting to see her so full of joy and expressing her gratitude for the support she had received from Breaking Barriers.

3. What has been the most surprising or unexpected aspect of your volunteer experience?

The resilience of the clients has been the most surprising aspect for me during my time at Breaking Barriers. Gaining stable, fulfilling employment takes months if not years and it’s not uncommon for a client to make between 50 and 100 job applications. Despite so many rejections, clients keep coming back and trying again and again. I realised that this is a reflection of the journey they have been on to get to this stage. Without determination and resilience, they may not have made it this far in the first place.

4. What is something you have learned in your role?

Something important I have learned is that our role as Advice & Guidance volunteers isn’t about finding a job for a client. Rather it is about building up the skills, know-how and confidence that they need to enable them to identify suitable roles and then to apply for multiple jobs by themselves.

5. If you could sum up Breaking Barriers in 5 words, what would they be?

Dedicated, Approachable, Hard-working, Innovative and Unique!

As it’s Volunteers’ Week, we would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our fantastic volunteers for their dedication and hard work to support our clients. Thank you for everything you do! 

Nishant Nayyer, Trustee

Nishant is an experienced private equity professional and Principal at H.I.G Capital, where he focuses on technology and Telecomms investment. He has been a Trustee of Breaking Barriers for 2 and a half years.




1. Why did you want to become a trustee at Breaking Barriers?

As a first-generation immigrant, I am a strong believer that new arrivals, especially those fleeing violence and terror, can become contributing members of their adopted home. Two generations ago, my family fled from modern-day Pakistan to India during one of the largest human displacements in history as the country was divided post-British rule – and received assistance to adjust to their new home. In the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis, I actively sought to become involved with charities that are bringing innovation to the problem of refugee integration in the UK.

2. What made Breaking Barriers different from other charities in the sector for you?

I would say two things stand out as differentiators for Breaking Barriers – 1) it’s a young, innovative and dynamic charity in a space that has historically been an underserved area – filled with somewhat slower moving and more bureaucratic charities – sometimes it honestly feels like a tech start-up – fast-growing and exciting to be a part of. 2) Breaking Barriers’ partnership with corporates is another differentiator – creating a win-win for both their refugee clients and corporations.

3. What has surprised you the most about being a trustee?

The biggest surprise to me as a trustee has been the speed of progress at Breaking Barriers and its evolution from a young, rapidly growing charity to an established, professionally managed charity today – that is still growing and hasn’t lost its startup spirit!

4. What are you most proud of at Breaking Barriers over the past 5 years?

The team’s response to the recent Covid-19 outbreak has made me incredibly proud – both in terms of their response to their clients as well as their approach to their employees. The empathy, and speed of response has left me very impressed

5. If you could sum up Breaking Barriers in 5 words, what would they be?

Compassionate, innovative, driven, analytical, and fast-paced.

Thank you to all our interviewees for sharing their stories for our ‘5 Minutes With..’ Series to celebrate our 5th Birthday. Thank you to everyone who donated or took part in our #BB5 Birthday challenge and to each and every member of staff, volunteer, client, mentor, partner, donor and supporter who has and continues to help us support every single one of our clients into meaningful employment, education and training. We are looking forward to working together to achieve more over the next 5 years.