A few minutes before midnight, Abigail is awake. The house is quiet. She reaches for her mobile, switches off the alarm and gets up. In the kitchen, she puts on the kettle, opens her laptop bag and sets up her computer, arranging her notebooks on the side. Then, with a cup of tea in hand, she starts studying. Tonight, she has an assignment to complete. Shortly before three in the morning, she saves the work and sends it off. She shuts down the computer, packs everything back into the bag and goes to bed. The assignment lands soundlessly in the course folder at a UK university.

Four hours later, she is up and preparing breakfast. Her daughter, Kez, wants her opinion on the latest paintings she’s done. Abigail looks over her shoulder and smiles. “They’re lovely, my girl.” But Kez shakes her head.

“It’s not what I wanted it to be,” she says. Kez has an electric energy and can’t wait to go and study art next year in Cape Town. Abigail smiles; she knows there is no point in disagreeing. Kez has her ways of seeing.

At nine o’clock, Abigail Murray is in her office at the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone (SBIDZ) SME Co-Lab, where she is the Associate: Enterprise Development and Centre Manager. She has steady, direct eyes that hold your attention and a no-nonsense attitude about her that keeps you on track.

“I joined the SBIDZ in 2015,” she says. “My experience was in enterprise and supplier development, and I felt I had the experience to do the job.”

She joined a team where many of whom were younger than her and most had academic qualifications.

“The fact that I didn’t have a degree worried me. I hadn’t studied – yes, I had 15 years of work experience, but I wasn’t sure how I would go about it,” she says.

She enrolled in a senior management course at the University of Stellenbosch and completed the course successfully. Abigail used the credits to apply to do an honours course through Lincoln University in the UK and has now moved on to doing her masters.

“You can learn from everyone. You must never take your situation for granted; look around you, see how others do it. A junior colleague came in one morning and mentioned she was studying part-time. I said how did you manage it all? And she told me she comes home, eats, sleeps and then works from midnight and then goes back to sleep again at 3 am. And that’s what I do – every weeknight.”

This discipline is part of her life. “It’s important to learn that you need to be present at all moments in your life: at work or at home with the family. And so with studying, you can’t just drag it around and fit it in whenever,” says Abigail.

“I was raised with a very strong spiritual foundation. I read a lot about value systems, how these get challenged with new people and new situations, and this influences how I work,” she says.

“I was propelled into a new environment when I joined the SBIDZ, and I have seen it grow organically from nothing. My work at the SME Co-Lab is strongly linked with the broader community. And I am proud of what we are doing. I have learnt that life is never static, but if you have this strong foundation, you are set up to navigate through life.”

Abigail grew up here in Saldanha Bay, married the boy next door, and they have two daughters.

“My immediate family is almost an entire community on its own,” she says, laughing. “We are planning Kez’s birthday party this month and there are already 40 guests – and that’s all just family.”

“It’s lovely here. People talk about small towns, and about travelling, going elsewhere. I ask myself what I want from life and the answer is I am happy here. The best places are always right where you are.”