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CEO of Bangla Housing reflects on early life & Covid-19

CEO of Bangla Housing  reflects on his struggle in Britain, career in community development and Covid campaign to reach out Bangladeshis in East London.


EARLY LIFE


Bashir Uddin was born in Bangladesh. He came to the United Kingdom in 1966 as an 11 year old boy.  He observed, at the time, he was one of few young boys from Bangladesh among young adults. 


He stated that: ‘And they are keen to work in the factories, as labourers and, and people started to bring their sons and nephews to the country… People didn't bring their families because they didn't think the point of bringing the family… you have to look after them, you have to have feed them’


Those who came from Bangladesh were economically beneficial to the family who they have left behind. These men would work for six months, a year or a couple of years, and then go back to Bangladesh and stay there for another six months, and then come back to the UK. This would be their routine pattern.


He stated that: ‘I don't think, at that point, there was any intention of people being permanent [in the UK). That idea came later. When I first came here, it was a completely different way of life here… And being not having your mom and your siblings and your, you know, all your friends back at home. 


In the early 1970s he began to see changes  in the community when people started to bring their families in the UK. 


‘I think there was a change in immigration rules.  But once the families from Bangladesh started coming in, it was a different type of environment.  We were playing as the way we played back in Bangladesh, back in the village, everybody sort of loved each other, cared for each other look after each other. We were going to each other's house invited each other, and all the children playing in the park and, and we sort of respected elders, like the way we did back in Bangladesh, and the elders sort of love, you know, after the kids as well.’


Bashir remembers his experience in school in Manchester. Initially he was one of two Asian boys studied there.  He felt he was supported by his teachers. They coached and supported him to learn English as though he was someone who needed care and attention and as a result children in his school were nice to him.  The feeling was not the same unfortunately outside the school. 


‘Sometimes I found the ones in the street that I didn't know… sometimes I would come across somebody, a young chap calling names I have come across now. Oh, Paki, you know, and, you know, when you challenge them as well, you know, what am I doing to you to, you know, call me that, and then they started being aggressive, you know, so I was ignoring them.' 


COMMUNITY WORK


After finishing his studies at college and then HND at Manchester Polytechnic,  he worked in a community project in Greater Manchester. He then moved to London because he felt there were more career opportunities. 


‘The Greater London Council (GLC) was in existence at all on those days. And they created some new posts…especially there were issues around racism and racial attacks... So they needed people from the community to sort of support them and help them. I was recruited  to one of those posts…'


Once GLC got disbanded and housing stocks transferred local authorities, Bashir joined Tower Hamlets Council as a local homeless worker. Having worked for a number of positions, he then worked for Newlon Housing Association where he was promoted to become a team leader and then a manager. He worked for Newlon for 18 years. From 2004, he has been working for Bangladeshi Housing Association as CEO.


FAMILY LIFE


Bashir went back to Bangladesh in 1980, married and brought his wife in the UK in that year. They had two children whilst  he was in Manchester.  They had  the third child  when he moved to London.  He wanted something different for his children.  


‘Our predecessors worked hard in factories. I didn't want to be treated like that. I wanted to be like the white community. I wanted  my children to have professional jobs. I didn't want to work in the weekends and in the evenings. I wanted a 9-5 job, and the same thing I wanted for my children as well. I wanted my children to do better than me…’


Bashir is pleased that his children are doing  well in education and in their career in UK. He personally feels that if you put your mind into things,  help will be out there but it has to come from within first.


‘Nothing is going to be given on a plate, really have to go for it….if you are prepared to work hard, then there is nothing stopping.' 


LOCKDOWN


Just before the lockdown Bashir was able to go everywhere and anywhere. He would go to the office or go to friends relatives’ houses and visit them.  He does admits that everything has changed during the lockdown.


‘We felt that we have to carry on with providing the service. And we had to be working from home. Because our office was closed, all the staff are working from home, but we had to do it, we have to sort of make arrangements from home and continue with our services in such a short period of time, we have to sort of adapt ourselves kind of setting. And with the technology.'



MINORITY QUESTION


It came to Bashir’s attention that BAME and particularly the Bangladeshi community had been disproportionately affected by COVID. He read a report written in the Guardian newspaper and watched it on News Night which highlighted the fact that Bangladeshi community have been impacted disproportionately. 


Bangla Housing is a member of BAME landlords housing associations. Bashir had arranged a meeting to address this issue and exchanged ideas. At the meeting he spoke about the report.   He wanted to do something about the impact of Covid upon minority communities.


‘Firstly, it looks like a message is not getting that into the community. Lots of people are being impacted because of the fact that they don't know what to do. They don't understand the seriousness of the disease, and the importance of making sure that we wash our hands and cover our face and keep our distance.’


Bashir explained that  Bangla Housing felt there was a lot of misinformation circulating in the community at that same time,  and some people were thinking, Covid is not going to affect them. 


‘So I was getting all that my colleagues asking me ‘ why don't you apply for a grant to set up a project.  Somebody suggested the National Lottery. And then another person said -  I know somebody who could help you with the writing of the application. And that's it!’


His was to reach over 10,000 Bangladeshi families or 40,000 people in the Bangladeshi community living in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Once his application was successful, he began to engage with  different agencies across these two Tower Hamlets and Hackney.  


PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY


‘I'm a Muslim, and our belief is that if, if it is in God's will, that you have to die…I believe in that. But I also believe you have to look after yourself, you have to do what you are asked to do…I feel that some people who have died or… as a sort of surprise to everybody. People didn't know it just suddenly that obviously, they realised later, as we progressed, that Yeah, you really have to be safe and stay in a safe distance, cover your face and wash your hand is very important. But initially people didn't follow that. And that's why the disease spread very quickly.’


Bashir admits that there are other underlying issues    inequality. He explained  — inter-generational overcrowding, underlying health issues such as diabetes, poverty among many others issues… 


Having successfully obtained a grant during the initial lockdown from the National Lottery, Bashir  awaits for a post pandemic recovery grant to support those who need support with mental health treatment and search of employment.


More on Bangla Housing here: https://www.banglaha.org.uk/covid-19-advice-1

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