Rocket Man is a Bristol refugee success story

A FARMER who escaped the Syrian civil war has started over at a sustainable food growing project near Frenchay.

Father-of-three Ali Al Hlayel settled in Bristol after arriving in the UK as a refugee.

He spent two years volunteering at Windmill Hill City Farm and at social enterprise Sims Hill Shared Harvest, based at the Avon Wildlife Trust’s Grow Wilder project off Frenchay Park Road.

Having grown vegetables, wheat, and barley in Syria, Ali gained knowledge of the British climate and land so he could return to farming to provide an income for his family.

He then started his own venture at Grow Wilder, a six-acre site dedicated to wildlife gardening, wildflower growing and regenerative agriculture.

Last year he produced his first harvest. As organic rocket leaf was his “star performer” Ali called his business Rocket Man.

After setting up an online fundraiser he raised more than £6,000 to buy a large polytunnel to help increase production and allow his business to operate all year round.

Ali, 40, supplies fresh organic vegetables to local restaurants and shops, and this year’s harvest has also included tomatoes, radishes and courgettes.

He said: “The UK welcomed us as refugees.

“I was so worried about the new country, with a different culture and with no family or friends.

“Also I knew nothing about this new community but luckily, I was able to restart my journey as a farmer in the UK.”

Ali is one of more than 640 migrant and refugee entrepreneurs from more than 15 different countries helped by a project called Migration Business Support (MBS), run by Bristol social enterprise Ashley Community & Housing in partnership with the West of England Combined Authority over the past two and a half years.

Most were previously unemployed.

They have set up more than 50 varied enterprises across the South West and West Midlands, including a crochet start-up, fashion and accessories e-commerce platform, acupuncture and sports therapy business and Egyptian street food venture.

Bristol University has supplied business expertise as part of the MBS scheme, and researchers from the university, along with UWE and Aston University in Birmingham, have produced a report on how it has helped migrants and refugees to succeed and integrate.

Ann Singleton, a reader in migration policy at Bristol University, said: “This report presents very positive findings about the success of offering comprehensive support to migrant and refugee entrepreneurship in specific UK regions.

“All too often migration in the UK is portrayed negatively, so we are pleased to share results which demonstrate that enthusiasm for work and creative mindsets, combined with inclusive policies, can support social and economic development across the whole community.”