mursal hedayat | chatterbox

The best way to learn a new language is to practice with a native speaker, but imagine if you could do that and change someone else’s life at the same time? Chatterbox trains and employs refugees to teach language courses, meaning they are able to put their talent to good use and you can learn a new skill. It’s a win-win. Meet the woman behind the operation, Mursal Hedayat…

Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?

I travel a lot because of work which makes me really appreciate it when I come back to London. I currently live in Seven Sisters but my favourite place in London is Camden, where I grew up and went to school. As a teenager I loved to hang out in Camden market with my friends. I don’t think I appreciated then, as I do now, just how creative and inspiring a place it is.

The office (which sometimes feels like a second home!) is in Moorgate. We’re lucky because the WeWork spaces have great coffee which is a good incentive to make it to the office in the morning. I also really love that there are so many communal spaces, there’s always someone to bump into and catch up with. Because the office is such a great place for morning coffee and lunch breaks I often eat lunch there, but I try to make sure I get outside at some point in the afternoon. Our office is right next to the Barbican and the architecture is breathtaking. If I really need an extra afternoon caffeine fix I make the pilgrimage to Shoreditch to try out new cafes – Brooklyn Coffee is a staple.

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Tell us a bit about how Chatterbox started.

At Chatterbox, we train refugees to teach their native languages and employ them on our online language courses for individuals and workplaces. This means that refugees are now a part of the solution to the UK’s estimated £48bn language skills deficit, which threatens both the economy and national security. I started Chatterbox because I was a bit fed up with the mis-perception of refugees as a threat or a burden. I was a refugee, and so was my family of doctors, lawyers, and engineers from Afghanistan. My mum was a kick-ass civil engineer with experience spanning the globe who spoke four languages including English fluently. Like many other talented members of our community she faced significant challenge finding work that made use of her ample talent. She used her language skills to become a language teacher here in the UK, so I pinched the idea from her and am using it to unleash this huge wealth of talent in the refugee community.

Last year you won the WeWork Creator Awards, what impact did that have on the business?

One of the best thing to come out of winning the Creator Awards is our swanky new office in Moorgate, one of my favourite places in London. Having a space to make our own has allowed us to develop a sense of community as a team and the office itself has a buzz about it that breeds creativity. Winning the WeWork Creator Awards opened up a whole new community to us. Catching up with friends on our floor and meeting inspiring new WeWork members are some of the favourite parts of our day. It’s provided opportunities to learn about and engage with some amazing projects. An example is the #WeAreAllHumanity campaign I took part in with Citizens of Humanity and other companies working with WeWork in London. Recognising our shared humanity is such a simple but stark message. It aligned with one of the key reasons I started Chatterbox – anyone could become a refugee and we should look after each other.

What more can be done to make it easier for refugees to find work in the UK?

The community of forcibly displaced people is vast and estimated to reach almost 1 billion people by 2050. The single most impactful thing we can do to help refugees find work – by far – is increase their access to English language training. That’s why Chatterbox will soon be offering online English language courses on a buy-one-donate-one basis, so that every English course purchased from Chatterbox donates one to a refugee in need of language training to access work. You can stay updated on this development by signing up to our newsletter here.

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Another way people can help is by purchasing Chatterbox language courses for themselves, as a gift, or by inviting Chatterbox to teach at their workplace! WeWork will become one of the first employers to introduce Chatterbox as a benefit for employees and we would love to sign up equally open and innovative organisations to pilot our workplace language training programme in 2019.

Describe your perfect day in London.

Nothing matches a sunny Sunday in North London with my loved ones, ideally spent enjoying the amazing food and entertainment on offer. During the week I’m up early and busy right from the get-go but on a Sunday I like to take things a bit easier and catch up on much needed sleep! On a perfect Sunday I’d have brunch at Cinnamon Village with my siblings. We’d grab an cone from Ruby Violet’s on our way to Hampstead Heath. The ice-cream there is insanely good, and I try to get away with tasting as many of the different flavours as possible before settling with my tried and true – salted caramel. Walking around the Heath helps me unwind and get a bit closer to nature. Having worked off some calories, I’d go for a decadent dinner with friends at the Pineapple – the not-so-best kept secret in North London – and a night soaking up culture at the Jazz Cafe.