Realife Voices is dedicated to the individuals who have benefitted from the work we do
Realife offers a social enterprise model which allows people to develop their skills for use in the local community.
Building Opportunities is one of the services which Realife runs to support those seeking to create business models for use in the local economy.

Seeing improvement 
at work in Cambridge 

A fresh opportunity for Maira – whose dog Freckle is also loving her life in pastures new

CAMBRIDGE has a great track record for encouraging ideas and one of the organisations helping people make progress towards their goals is Realife, a social enterprise charity based near the Science Park, writes Mike Scialom. 
    Realife offers a range of support and advocacy services including the Building Opportunities programme, which caters for start-ups.
    One of the participatants in the programme is Maira Kay, an Irish-Australian who’s been living in Cambridge since having her sight restored at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in 2015. 
    “I could hardly cross the road independently,” she says of her condition back then, before enthusing about how wonderfully she was treated at Addenbrookes’ eye department. 
    I met Maira at Realife’s Orwell House premises, my workplace for part of the week. One afternoon her dog Freckle bounded into the office and introductions were made. I ended up driving them to the vet for an appointment, and heard her story. 
    Maira's great great grandfather came from York: he was a convict shipped out to Australia “for stealing silver spoons” – I don’t know, do you laugh or cry? By trade he was “a horse-breaker in Yorkshire, taking wild horses and taming them”, and it sounds as if perhaps that skill found good use in the Outback.
    She spent her early years in “a government township exclusively for engineers and their families” – Cabramurra in the Snowy Mountains – because her dad was an engineer. It was visited by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1963 ( more here ).
When her parents split up mother and child went to live in Canberra until, age 22, Maira left “to look for inspiration”. By the end of that year, 1998, she came to Cambridge for the first time. “Some people gave me a lift from the Netherlands, they were from Cambridge, and I stayed a year and a half, then I went back to Australia, then I came back to study at APU, then went to Oxford Brookes University because they focussed on law. I was an access student. But having a learning difficulty” – very possibly from being a premature baby – “the situation at that time was that support was not provided.” 
    Not to be discouraged, she went via a London University programme to Singapore to pursue her studies. “I thought I’d give Asia ten years but in fact I became a born-again Christian and gave that ten years instead of law.” 

    Most of that time was spent in Khonkean, a university town in north-east Thailand, though she also stayed in Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Langkawi in Malaysia and then, after developing cataracts and having detached retina problems, she come back to the UK for her sight-saving operation.
    It was in Khonkean that Maira acquired Freckle, a springer spaniel, and “really enjoyed travelling round with her”. Freckle, now happily settled in Cambridge – not least because she loves the cooler weather – has been a constant in a whirl of change. “She helps settle my mind because I’ve been through a lot of chaos – a permanent, loyal, reliable companion, affectionate and quite simple in terms of maintenance.” A video of Freckle appears here
    Recently Maira set up an eyelash extension studio – see “BFF Eyelash Extensions” on Facebook – and is also developing a nutritional business which includes “a edically endorsed programme to combat diabetes, heart disease and cholesterol by managing the body’s cholesterol levels and triglycerides”. 
    Realife director Tony Philips says: “We’re delighted to have Maira with us as part of Realife’s Building Opportunities programme. Maira is an inspirational figure who is working hard to develop her business and we look forward to offering her all the support she needs. 
    “Building Opportunities is a service which will help make a positive difference for many people who are entitled to support as they tackle the challenges of employment in the region.” 
    Find out more at  realife.org.uk