MINA Banisaeid is an asylum seeker who has not only changed her own life, but is helping to improve the lives of others around her.

She is keen to stress that she was not a refugee fleeing war, as is the case in Ukraine.

“I had come over here on a visa and asked for asylum, while I was here,” she said.

She was, however, leaving a country where she had few rights as a woman and little opportunity to follow her own dreams.

This week marks the third anniversary of her arriving in Carlisle and seeking asylum.

An accountant by profession, she took a job here as a supermarket cashier.

“It was a good job. It meant that I was still seeing people during the pandemic lockdown, and I was improving my English.”

She said she felt welcome by most but there was a mixed reaction from some. She also found it hard to get what she needed – including English lessons.

Mina, 35, now has much of what she wants – and one of those things is her girlfriend.

“In Iran, being a lesbian is not something you would know about, never mind practise. I don’t know anything about my own sexuality.”

Mina is now chairwoman of Carlisle, City of Sanctuary. This is a group with representation from various other groups and institutions around the city, including the Carlisle College.

The group was set up in September 2020 to coincide with the 5th anniversary of Carlisle Refugee Action.

She is also part of the Panah project which brings women from all cultures together.

“We had a get-together at Holme Head House," she said.

Mina also runs the PiNC project – an organisation for young people in the LGBT community.

The group of 13- to 24-year-olds meet regularly for activities including crafts, cooking, and exploring the world around them.

She said she got involved through Pam Eland, her boss, and now works closely with colleague and friend Sam Massey.

While she waits for the interview with the Home Office, which she prays will give her the right to stay, Mina will continue to work to make sure that she can help others..