Numeracy scheme helps learners triumph against the odds

Sonia Omari serving home-made Afghan cuisine to ing ePeter Creek at the pop-up dinvent at Embsay Village Hall.

A refugee family who has made a new life for themselves in North Yorkshire are bringing together different cultures through the love of food thanks to the skills gained from a numeracy programme. 

Almost three years after the Taliban took control over their home city of Kabul, Mozhgan Omari still remembers the challenges she and her family faced while trying to escape Afghanistan.

At risk due to her husband Abdul Waheed’s job as a firefighter with the previous Afghan government, the mother-of-11 children arrived in England in August 2021. 

After a brief spell living in a hotel in Scarborough, the couple and their children moved to Skipton where they felt immediately welcomed by the community.

Soon after, Mozhgan and her eldest daughter, Sonia, enrolled on our Multiply scheme learning about budgeting, booking systems, pricing and food hygiene enabling them to serve dishes from the home they left behind by setting up a pop-up restaurant. 

And their hard work and dedication has paid off after they received the Biggest Achievement Award at a Multiply Celebration and Awards ceremony in York yesterday (20 March).

Mozhgan said the Multiply courses have given her a new purpose in life, and added: “Multiply courses have transformed our lives and we have learnt so much,

“On Saturday last weekend we held our fourth pop-up restaurant at Embsay Village Hall and it was a sell-out. We served authentic Afghani dishes including kabuli pilau, Afghan rolls, qorma kofta, sabzi and many more. I want the people of Skipton and beyond to taste the flavours, aromas and culinary traditions of our homeland cuisine.”

She added: “We have been touched by the support of people from Skipton who have opened their hearts and homes for our family. Moving from a war zone to the beautiful, rural surroundings of Skipton has been a major adjustment for our family, but we feel safe here and are blessed to find ourselves among a lot of very good, friendly and kind people.”

The Multiply project has been instrumental in helping to improve the numeracy skills of thousands of people across both York and North Yorkshire after a £3.3 million investment was secured by the Government. 

The funding was provided through the £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which has been established to help the Government’s levelling up agenda to tackle regional inequalities across the country.

The Multiply initiative has been supported by a partnership of our Adult Learning Service, City of York Council’s York Learning and a consortium led by Better Connect.

Looking ahead, plans are being drawn up to ensure an even greater number of people benefit from the project.

Executive member for education, learning and skills, Cllr Annabel Wilkinson, said: “Multiply is now moving into its third year of delivery and it’s grown from strength to strength. So far, Multiply has impacted the lives of almost 4,000 people across North Yorkshire and York with our free courses ranging from cooking on a budget, murder mystery, candle making and so many more.

“We’ve given away more than 200 air fryers enabling residents to cook cost-effective meals for their families. It’s very exciting to see what year three will bring and how many more people we can help. 

“Well done to everyone who signed up to the numeracy scheme and to our proud winners.”

The Multiply celebratory event was hosted by North Yorkshire Council’s Adult Learning Service and City of York Council’s York Learning and held at The Principal hotel in York. It acknowledged and celebrated the dedication of learners who had taken positive steps to gain maths skills for free by signing up to the Government’s flagship numeracy programme.

Almost 80 learners and Multiply partners attended the ceremony on Wednesday (20 March) and the winners received a trophy, a £50 gift card and a graduation teddy bear presented by television comedian and writer Maisie Adam. 

Among the other recipients were mother and daughter duo Mavis Towl, who was highly commended, and Susan Dixon, who won the Most Supportive Award.

Mavis, 79, has early onset Alzheimer's disease and began attending Multiply sessions for the social aspect and to keep her mind working. 

However, she soon was able to refresh her memory with the maths skills, and the course has helped her to build her current hidden knowledge of the topic and build her confidence despite the struggles she faces on a day-to-day basis. 

Her daughter, who has been attending the sessions as her mother’s carer, said: “When mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s early last year, we saw various professionals and charities for advice and support and many of them recommended Hambleton Community Action. 

“We signed up for their IT safety and training and six-week food classes, which were being delivered as part of the Multiply programme. Mum learnt how to use her iPad more and how to keep safe online. We also attended cake decorating, candle making and soap making sessions. 

“I can truly say attending the courses gave mum back her interest in life. Before Covid, she drove and went daily into her youngest grandchild’s school to listen to the children reading and help in the library. The lockdowns took away a lot of her confidence and her health deteriorated dramatically. Unfortunately, her dementia symptoms progressed quite quickly and she felt that life was over. The courses helped to build her confidence.”

Susan added: “I went as mum’s carer but got a lot from the courses myself. It was so lovely to see mum happy and enjoying herself and to get to do activities with her that built her confidence and showed her that she still could learn new things despite her dementia diagnosis.”

Other winners included Molly Parker from Thirsk, Kian Gurney from York, Katy Bland from Filey and many more.

Multiply offers adults free, flexible courses which include innovative ways to incorporate maths through practical sessions such as slow cooker cooking classes to prepare meals on a budget while cutting back on gas and electricity costs.

To find out more about the scheme in York and North Yorkshire, email