Being born a long time ago - several decades - on the banks of the Tyne on Armstrong Road I have always loved Newcastle and later on in life the whole region, calling North East my home.
North Easterners are resilient, hard-working and the most hospitable in the world. Our region fuelled the world through coal and spearheaded the industrial revolution. Our pioneers created light, engines and power, fundamentally propelling the economies of so many countries.
However, sadly the North East hasn’t fared so well in the last few decades, especially when compared to other regions across the U.K. and in particular to London. In turn demonstrating a North/South divide, with local people feeling deprived, disengaged and disadvantaged.
I do think a lot of the negativity associated with the North East is inflicted by a universal negative perception, which is enforced on our community by people in power. There are so many positive initiatives and organisations all making a difference, although unfortunately at times in isolation or without recognition.
So when the government announced devolution deals across England a couple of years ago and the appointment of Metro Mayors I thought this was a great opportunity for someone to help galvanise the community and positively make a difference. We are proud and passionate people that just need some direction, a handup rather than a hand out, we need someone to help promote our positive attributes, our greatness, but to do so collectively and collaboratively, working with all members of the community, prioritising those that need help first and foremost, and showcasing those that are making a difference all at the same time. We need to meaningfully join up the public, private and third sector with the whole community, learning from one another to make a bigger and more sustainable impact. And I genuinely believe the person to do this job is me.
Why? Well for nearly two decades I have worked tirelessly and unreservedly to improve the social and economic wellbeing of the whole community, giving away in excess of 50% of my time purely voluntarily.
Working with Charities including Marie Curie, Charlie Bear for Cancer Care, Percy Hedley Foundation and the Cyrenians to name but a few,
then going onto create our own charity based in the North East that introduces enterprise qualifications into schools providing future generations with the skills to succeed in life – a first in the UK and subsequently recognised by the Children’ Commissioner as an exemplar.
In 2009 I established Asian Business Connexions as a not-for-profit social enterprise that connects the Asian and wider community, tackling inequality and promoting inclusivity and community cohesion, helping hundreds into work and training thousands more to improve their life choices. More recently developing bi-lateral trade links encouraging and facilitating much needed inward investment and creating a trade body that brings the whole of the North Yorkshire, North West and North East together, which I now lead, together with helping local businesses export to international countries.
Through my role as private sector representative on numerous strategic partnerships including theCity Deal, Education Challenge and subsequently the North East LEP, I have lobbied and supported economic, social and education policy development that puts people first.
Whilst a non-exec director at Your Homes Newcastle I helped establish and led the commercial arm that raised critical funds to extend the social activities delivered by the
organisation, in parallel, leading an employability task force to address the barriers and challenges experienced by local people in securing and maintaining work.
Education wise, I have devoted over 16 years to Tyneview Primary School in Walker as governor and lately as Chair of Governors, one of the
youngest of Governors in Newcastle at the time.
In 2015, I was appointed the David Goldma visiting Professor of Innovation and Enterprise at Newcastle University Business School, once again the first Asian to have been appointed to this role.
As Chair of the Newcastle Progression Forum I have worked collectively and collaboratively with a whole host of partners to address real life challenges affecting our communities including significantly reducing the number of young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) and then going on to create the #Primary2Prosperity movement. A campaign that connects all the dots to provide the right support at the right time for every single member of our community starting at primary age, and all the way through, facilitating fuller, longer and richer lives. Recognising the importance of Arts and Culture alongside preserving the immense history and
heritage of our region, I have committed the last four years to Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums as a trustee. Working with Culture Bridge North East to promote and improve access to cultural education by overseeing partnership investment, supporting numerous fantastic local
cultural organisations all to make a demonstrable and sustainable impact.
Collaboratively working with Durham Miners Association helping to celebrate the rich and colourful history of mining, connecting communities to mainstream opportunities,
recognising their strengths and the contribution that was made, but more importantly the direct links from a past industry to current and future
opportunity for young people.
No other region contributes more people to the Armed Forces than the North East and for the past three years I have been a staunch ambassador of the Army, Navy and Airforce organising Armed Forces Covenant signings for local companies so that we can get behind these courageous men and women, together with promoting the benefits of employer engagement. Recognising the importance of Apprenticeships, the challenges local businesses have in finding work ready young people and the fact that Cadets are ideally equipped to enter the world of work, I helped establish the Cadet Apprenticeship Pathway which connects work ready young people to local businesses.
Wherever I have seen an issue affecting the community or an opportunity to promote the North East, I have worked collectively and collaboratively with like-minded people to make a difference.
What are my qualifications to become a mayor? Being a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and holding a Masters of Business Administration where I secured a distinction, I have tons of experience and expertise and where I don’t know something I learn it or work with the experts. I have been a single parent, experienced horrific trials and tribulations throughout my life including abject poverty, discrimination and persecution, and I have failed many a time too.
However, despite all of this I have gone on to be the best I can and make a major impact to the lives of many, achieving incredible awards and accolades including being the first and youngest Geordie Asian to be appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE); sharing a prayer with Her Majesty the Queen at St Paul’s Cathedral, and being invited to Parliament regularly to contribute to policy discussions; all of which I have done as a proud and passionate Northerner.
So when I think about the difference a mayor can make, I think about the contribution to my regionthat I have already made, serving the whole community and not just one small part.
Regardless of who becomes our first mayor on the 2nd May 2019, I hope they put our people first and foremost, ensuring the future is filled with humility, humanity and hope, but above all else an everlasting love for all of our region.
And whatever happens I will do all I can to continue with my love affair for the greatest place on earth.
My home the North East!
Love and peace.