Ima Miah came to the UK as a toddler. She was brought up in a typical Bangladeshi family. She was one of six children.
‘My father was here (in the UK) from the 1960s. My village gran parents were the early cohort of people coming over. My family has been deep rooted for many many decades,’ she explains.
When they joined their father in the UK, they first lived in a tiny restaurant in Crystal Palace, South London. Eventually, they lived in a house in Beckenham. She lived in the area for over 30 years.
‘I do remember living in a very white community compared to my cousins who lived in Camden and East End…We would have weekly trips into town where my dad would make it absolute priority to go every week at some point in one of the relative's houses. This is how I was able to learn about Bangladeshi culture’.
‘I remember going pass East End and being quite tearful because I felt I’ve gone back to Bangladesh. I’ve never seen so many brown faces! Living in a town like Beckenham, - we were just use to not seeing many Asian people around.’
Her father was pretty sick for the last ten years of his life.
'I do blame the restaurant trade for that because of the environment he worked and the pressures he was under. I also think that the generation of people built the Bangladeshis now…’
ATTITUDE OF BENGALI & REALITY
‘I do know that because my father died early we did not get married off quickly. I don't know if he had not died the marriage issue may have come sooner for me and for my sisters. My cousins here getting married off when they were 18…that’s what I knew and thats the environment we were around.’
She states that this mentality was not common amongst her Indian and Pakistani friends. His father encouraged her brothers to go to college and universities whilst others were sending their sons to work in restaurants.
Once her father passed away the household was missing a male presence. Her older brother had filled the gap in the family.
‘Even now we absolutely go to him for any problems we have. It's also the case with my cousins…They still go to him. He is also a very liberal man.’
ETHICAL CAREER AMBITION
Ima, having studied engineering for one years at university, she then pursued management studies for three years. That is when she developed an understanding of the workings of business management. She goes on to say:
‘I did not agree with capitalism in the way that it was. I felt much more comfortable working in the public and voluntary sector. There has to be some public benefit (to my work). This thing about corporate social responsibility and social enterprise had entered my head a long way back.’
Once she finished her degree she went on to work for her local Job Centre where she signed on as a job seeker. She then moved on to work for Crisis, a national homelessness organisation, as Contract Manager. Having worked for this organisation, she developed her skills and knowledge in project management, government funding, and policy work related to homelessness in the UK. She emphasised that her professional background was in homelessness.
She then worked for several different councils all over London. She later married and lived in Birmingham. When she moved to Birmingham she worked for Birmingham Council in their strategic funding department for the voluntary sector. After this job, she established her career in the voluntary sector. She later joined the Asian Resource Centre as CEO.
PRIOR TO COVID
‘I knew that health promotion was an issue for our community. It was kind of in my head space all the time that we need to do more to help our community, especially the elderly community.’
Before Covid, she was thinking about ways to address social isolation. Given the transition from social family to nuclea family, it has resulted in social isolation for the elderly. Ima set up coffee mornings, lunch clubs and reading clubs to bring elderly people together.
As CEO of the Asian Resource Centre in Croydon she also provides a platform for the Asian communities to local and national governments.
‘I am the annoying one who says to the leader of the council” ‘What about the Asians” What about the Asians.’
COVID AND THE LOCKDOWN
‘…I have weekly meetings with Director of communities of Croydon Council and we sit on Local strategic partnership board...’
A lot of the organisations Ima works with had to stop their services just like the Asian Resource Centre. At the same time a number of Asian members of the communities were even more isolated than previously.
‘We got in touch with every single member on our database. Furloughing was not an option for me. I got in touch with all our funders. Our concerns were mainly around: what happens to our members? What happens with our partners? What happens with staff and what happens with funders? - these were to four big issues I dealt with.’
‘We started running a food bank before lockdown but we could not call it a foodbank because of the mind set of the client group. They do not want handouts. We changed the name to Food Club. It only £3.50 for a £15 shopping. We can exchange recipe.’
This was organised a year ago. During lockdown, it became a fully functioning foodbank.
‘a foodbank that serves from 16 to 80 plus was a massive task. We did not have halal meat and vegan diets. We had to end up buying food ourselves.’
She found that information and advice guidance on Covid was not suitable. She emphasised that the message was not culturally appropriate. From the point of view Muslims, they wash their hands five times a day; others were saying that this is just another government scam to detract from main issues; Chinese people felt that there was a backlash against the Chinese community.
‘Very quickly we recorded 16 different languages from people from the community. We wanted real people to give real messages to the community. Not from the government officials. That’s the first thing we did: we are talking to you in your language.’
She realised that people who are the age of over 80, they don't need grocers since they are not going to cook with with them. They needed cooked meals. That is the service Ima's team developed on the following week of lockdown. There were other issues too: some people were not ready for deaths. Many of them were worried about their children.
‘We put together a care pack that gives information on different services such writing a will, funeral preparation and banking.’
For Ima people working from home and their mental health issue was a huge challenge:
’Within week three of the lockdown, the council had to think about mental health our staff. The strain of speaking to people on the phone about loss of the loved ones can get really difficult. Also, working from home and manage your space…It’s really a strain on families. I would not be suprised if divorce rates go up quickly due to Covid. I know DV has!’
Everyone was panicking about her mother. Her mother lives in a household of six people. They are careful about social distancing.
‘She was in prisoner in her own home in a way…She was made to keep away from us. She would eat separately. When I speak to her she would say I heard about this person die and that person die.’
People of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are living in two spaces, she emphasised, the mother land and in the UK. Her mother’s home is in Bangladesh. She was worried about her mother being overburdened with stories of deaths from Bangladesh and UK.
‘People were worried about their locality, as in England, but financially they are worried about their families abroad. It was more about people’s earnings being stopped and dying of hunger. In the UK, to a large degree, plenty of us live below the poverty line but rarely die of hunger.’
Covid was real for Ima when her colleague was in hospital.
‘One of my colleagues was in hospital for 5 weeks in a coma. When I heard the news about him this is when it dawned on me.’
To Ima, Covid brought home social, economic disadvantages the community face.
’Covid is not just about health disadvantages, but a whole lot of other issues.’
‘This has brought home the desperation of the community that has been banging on about inequality. It has come at a time when voices of the community is not being heard. This is not a new voice. This is just reinforcing what we have been saying for many years. Now, it has highlighted the differences between priveleged community and non priveleged community.’