Together with her army of volunteers, councillor Fozia Shaheen is helping the hardest-hit families throughout the pandemic

A tireless councillor says she’s incredibly proud of her locals who’ve been coming out in force to support and help her deliver over whopping 7,000 meals to the hardest-hit families in inner city Bradford.

Cllr Fozia Shaheen became one of the country’s youngest female South Asian councillors when she took up her role six years ago, and continues to channel her energies into supporting the communities in her ward, Toller.

Having committed a decade to working in the community, particularly with people with learning disabilities through her day job at the Khidmat Centres, she’s not shy on leading initiatives from the front.

Her numerous successful projects include the ‘End Child Food Poverty Campaign’, where she’s galvanised the Girlington Community Centre and Indian Women’s Council to assist with providing hundreds of nutritious meals to children who come from families living on the edge of the poverty line.

Another is her ‘Befriending Service’ project, which lends support to lonely, often elderly, people. Here she rallies the support of people from the area to work around the clock to help isolated people with regular friendly chats.

Together with her army of volunteers, Fozia provides services such as shopping, picking up medication, making medical appointments as well as supporting them with benefit advice and sign posting them to other support groups and services.

“The Toller ward in the heart of Bradford is a relatively poor locality in terms of high levels of socio-economic deprivation,” explains Fozia.

“Given that the impact of Covid has been greater on minority ethnic communities, whether due to risks to employment, working on frontline services or the fact that tighter-packed, often multi-generation households – the impact has been devastating.

“My focus locally is a no-nonsense and multifaceted approach helped to motivate and inspire others in these challenging times.

“I have been able to further support and be the first point of contact for many families and individuals.

“I’ve assisted families to obtain things we take for granted, such as fuel top-up cards; helped women access free sanitary products at the Girlington Community Centre under my ‘Period Poverty Campaign’.”

Dream Big, Aim High

But it’s her work for vulnerable people that’s led her to set up a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC).

CICs are explicitly social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good.

With Bradford officially recognised as a ‘City of Sanctuary’ since 2008, it’s one of the first cities that officially welcomed asylum-seekers and refugees. “In the light of Covid-19 and the rising needs I felt there was a need of more support services,” she explains.

“I initiated the setting up of the new community interest company ‘Dream Big, Aim High’, as a community organisation based in the heart of Girlington. This will offer a number of services from sports, health and social care, services for people with mental health and learning disabilities, supporting carers and much, much more.”

‘Dream Big, Aim High’, builds on the fantastic work done at the Girlington Community Centre which has continued to support isolated and vulnerable older people and families that have faced food related poverty. The Centre has been a hub for much needed support across Bradford West.

Most rewarding

Of all the initiatives she’s led on, Fozia says making a huge positive impact on 100’s of lives is the most rewarding.

“With the community centre, I have been able to rally a team to help make and deliver hampers to children in care, to asylum seeker and refugee families, and to the elderly who are isolated or lonely; showing them that they are a valued and an important part of the community. That included dozens of Christmas hampers for those who would have otherwise missed out.

“Being a Bradfordian, I couldn’t be prouder of the way in which local volunteers and organisations supported our volunteers to deliver much-needed practical help throughout the pandemic to those who would have otherwise have struggled.”

Fozia is now focussing on a post-Covid-19 landscape: “There will be a huge amount of work to be done to support people who have lost jobs, lost incomes, need support with mental health issues and also those seeking reconnections with healthier lifestyles and exercise – social prescribing approaches to improving health outcomes,” she adds.

“As a local councillor, I am supporting the board of directors at the Girlington Community Centre to attain the building from the local council through asset transfer.

“The centre offers vital services in terms of business start-up offices, welfare advice, training, an elderly provision, classes for women, a dementia advocacy service, exercise and training for young people and more.

“I hope to work with the directors and the management of the centre to support a successful the asset transfer, find funds to enhance the offer to local communities, including the asylum and refugee families in the neighbourhood.”

And if she didn’t have enough plate-spinning on the go, Fozia is in the process of taking a Level 2 qualification in cricket so she can support young people and women into sport!