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‘We helped unite a divided community’: Islington Bangladesh Association turns 35

PUBLISHED: 12:30 20 September 2017 | UPDATED: 13:36 20 September 2017

Mayor of Islington Cllr Una O'Halloran with members of the Islington Bangladesh Association including chair Iftekhar Choudhury to the left of the mayor and executive director Asad Choudhury to her right. Picture: Polly Hancock

Mayor of Islington Cllr Una O'Halloran with members of the Islington Bangladesh Association including chair Iftekhar Choudhury to the left of the mayor and executive director Asad Choudhury to her right. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Islington Bangladesh Association celebrated its 35th anniversary yesterday. The Gazette learns why it’s still going strong – after the charity helped to unite what had been a divided community in the 1980s.

Mayor of Islington Cllr Una O'Halloran with a group of volunteers at the 35th anniversary celebrations of the Islington Bangladesh Association at the Hugh Cubitt Centre yesterday. Picture: Polly HancockMayor of Islington Cllr Una O'Halloran with a group of volunteers at the 35th anniversary celebrations of the Islington Bangladesh Association at the Hugh Cubitt Centre yesterday. Picture: Polly Hancock

Islington Bangladesh Association is only a few doors down from where it began in Caledonian Road in 1982. But it has come a long way.

Its first meeting was an informal language class at the front of Mahtam Halal, Iftekhar Choudhury’s takeaway in number 96.

Thirty-five years on, its offices are in number 71, and it’s a fully-fledged charity standing up for Islington’s Bangladeshi community – which makes up about four per cent of the borough’s population.

It started with casual get-togethers, but things took a more serious turn in 1984 when two Bangladeshi boys were assaulted in a hate attack in the York Way Estate.

The group organised a protest march, which included current Islington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Islington South and Finsbury MP Chris Smith.

An archive picture of the Islington Bangladesh Association from 1987. Picture: Islington Bangladesh AssociationAn archive picture of the Islington Bangladesh Association from 1987. Picture: Islington Bangladesh Association

Ahead of the group’s 35th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday, project development officer Mohibur Rahman says: “There were a lot of racial problems in this community. That attack was really what got the ball rolling. Not just on tackling racial violence, but doing more as a unit. That’s the point when we got a constitution and formal committees.”

“We wanted to do something to improve our quality of life. The community was new. A lot of families moved here in the late 70s and early 80s. It was a way of getting to know each other as a lot of people were alone in a new country with no friends. Islington Bangladesh Association was influenced by what the Bangladeshi people were doing in Tower Hamlets – it was based on that model.”

Today, the charity has eight staff and sees up to 700 clients a year. It ranges from outreach work and dance classes to mum’s groups and gardening projects in Barnsbury Community Garden.

“Islington has a much stronger integrated community now,” says Mohibur. “Part of it is this organisation being vocal and raising these issues.

“But the problems are still there. A lot of our people have issues with poverty. There are still many issues for our elderly people. It shows the ongoing need of our work.

Executive director Asad Choudhury with Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry and mayor of Islington Cllr Una O'Halloran at the 35th anniversary celebrations of the Islington Bangladesh Association at the Hugh Cubitt Centre yesterday. Picture: Polly HancockExecutive director Asad Choudhury with Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry and mayor of Islington Cllr Una O'Halloran at the 35th anniversary celebrations of the Islington Bangladesh Association at the Hugh Cubitt Centre yesterday. Picture: Polly Hancock

“On the other hand, our youngsters are doing really well. We saw some of the kids highlighted in the Gazette’s A-level and GCSE coverage. Our young people are going on to become doctors, lawyers, journalists.”

Reflecting on the 35th anniversary celebrations at the Hugh Cubitt Centre in Collier Street, director Asad Choudhury is simply grateful the Association is still around.

“We had no problems up to 2000. But then there was regime change at the council and it cut our funding. It was a very tough time. I begged the council to give me six months to try and find new funding.

“I spoke to one of the local councillors, Rupert Perry [who still serves Caledonian ward to this day], and he suggested the Cripplegate Foundation. We applied and got two years’ funding – and we are still here today.”

Asad, who won an Islington civic award in 2011, added: “It was amazing to come through that uncertainty. And for that time when we faced closure, I’m proud that we never reduced our service. Surviving through those difficult times is my achievement.”

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn supported Islington Bangladesh Association when it was faced with closure in 2000. Picture: Islington Bangladesh AssociationIslington North MP Jeremy Corbyn supported Islington Bangladesh Association when it was faced with closure in 2000. Picture: Islington Bangladesh Association

Mohibur adds this adversity was actually to the charity’s benefit in the long run.

“When I first came here, it was very council reliant. But the funding cut really woke us up. We weren’t even a registered charity at that point. It gave us a kick up the backside and now we are more self-sufficient.”

For more information about Islington Bangladesh Association, visit ibal.org.uk

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