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From refugee to business founder

Thought Leader

From refugee to business founder

Razan and her family arrived as refugees in the UK with nothing. After facing huge challenges, she found a creative solution to help herself and Yorkshire – halloumi cheese.



Razan 1.JPGName           Razan Alsous
Business      Yorkshire Dama Cheese


I arrived in Huddersfield in July 2012 after the bombing had started in Damascus. There had been an explosion at my husband’s office and we needed to go to a safe place for our kids.


We came with nothing. Only our tickets.


My brother in law had been living in Huddersfield for a few years which is why we moved to Yorkshire. I got my residency quite quickly, but it took two years for my husband to get his. He couldn’t work throughout that time, so it was up to me to find work for myself.


From job searching to business founder


Back in Syria I had graduated in Pharmaceutical Science, but as my experience wouldn’t transfer to the UK, I would need to start my education again to work in this field. With young children, I couldn’t manage the time or finances needed for full time education. So I decided against it.


After a year of looking for a job and unable to find one, I started thinking about what I could do – not qualifications, but what skills did I have. I love cooking – it’s my passion – so this is the area I was drawn to. I was thinking about Yorkshire, that there’s green everywhere and the milk is wonderful, but the halloumi cheese I love wasn’t as good quality as at home. And it was only available in the summer.


I learnt to make halloumi for my family, and when I researched the cheese, I saw that the UK is  largest consumer for it in Europe, and they don’t produce as much as the demand. I joined an enterprise team, and built a business plan with my mentor. This is when I launched Yorkshire Dama Cheese. Yorkshire had become my second homeland, and Dama was short for my first one, Damascus.


Reaching a new community


Usually when you start a local business, your family, friends and business relations in the area would be the ones to support you. I didn’t have any of these in the UK.


It was a huge challenge and risk starting Yorkshire Dama Cheese. I’d worked before, but I had never created my own product or business. I didn’t know who to target or what the UK market was like. But I found that when I put myself out there, the support from the community was great. I wasn’t afraid to go into the society. I went to food festivals, talked to people, gave away free samples and always listened. I developed the product from their feedback.


What I found is that people loved the business – it was something unusual. Anybody can start a factory and make halloumi, but it won’t be like mine. I started from zero and really challenged myself. After everything that’s going on in Syria, I wanted to build something for my kids to recover what we left behind. That gives the business huge value.


What I think is success


To anyone else wanting to start their own business, refugee or not – life is not stable. But people are the valuable part of each business. Never give up, and stay positive.


It’s important to know want you want, believe in what you are going to do and go for it.


I had a lot of difficulties starting up. Sometimes on the same day when I had a success, I had plenty of problems. What I did is smiled, and kept going forward.


In business you need to be a good listener because that’s how you learn. Your customer is always right and they drive you to success. I’m now stocked in shops across Yorkshire – even ones in Scotland. I’m now expanding Yorkshire Dama Cheese, and as a part of that I still going to the food market and talking to customers. Success to me is to keep going, and every day keep learning.