For this edition of our Spotlight On… we spoke to Shabana Qureshi from Ashiana Community Project, know as ACP for short. ACP is a community organisation based in Sparkbrook, providing an impressive roster of information, advocacy and health and well-being activities for the community they serve. ACP’s history spans back to the 1980’s when Sparkbrook resident Mohammed Saleem Qureshi worked with Christian missionaries in Sparkbrook to create a community organisation that could “upskill and educate local people”. You can read about ACP’s full history HERE.
Over the years ACP has grown and become a key community asset for those living in Sparkbrook and surrounding areas. The organisation currently employs 20 members of staff, including Shabana, who is the Women’s Well-being Manager for the organisation. Shabana oversees the ACP Women’s Well-being Hub which provides an inclusive safe space for women in the local area. Many of the women that access the hub are vulnerable, and for them the support that Shabana and her team provide is a lifeline: “many of the women we support have gone through some form of trauma or lead stressful lives due to poor physical or mental health made worse by financial hardship”. Women who access the hub are provided with a package of well-being support which seeks to improve their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
When we spoke with Shabana back in August the shadow of the first Coronavirus lockdown was a key talking point. Shabana and colleagues at ACP did not stop working through the pandemic, and when the full impact of COVID-19 and the first lockdown measures hit, ACP were on the frontline supporting residents of Sparkbrook to manage with the economic, emotional and practical challenges that the pandemic and lockdown brought about. Alongside moving services online and providing support via telephone ACP developed a strong social media strategy to help publicise their work. ACP’s ability to adapt in light of the crisis and provide residents with a safety net in response to the pandemic was vital, as Shabana told us, “we work with very vulnerable communities with high amounts of social deprivation and they were hit the hardest by the pandemic.”
In the Summer Shabana and colleagues at ACP released the ‘100 Days of COVID’ report, an in-depth document detailing the ways in which ACP responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and shining an important spotlight onto how “poverty, poor health, social isolation and economic hardship had left BAME communities struggling in extreme hardship”, you can read the full report HERE [Link to report].
Supporting vulnerable people to overcome hardship, especially women, has always been a passion for Shabana and something that she has done for much of her career “I see my role as providing opportunities for women that they wouldn’t normally have.” When asked about what she enjoys most about her role Shabana states that it is the change she is able to bring about to vulnerable women’s lives: “Knowing that I have made a difference. Even if the case I am working on is difficult, getting a positive result for my client through good quality intervention is the most rewarding thing“.
When asked about the challenges she faces doing her role Shabana spoke about the complexities of advocacy work; “Advocating and trying to get the best support for my clients can be frustrating as it can be a long process. For example if I am helping someone to access welfare benefits I can spend hours on advice lines trying to get the right support. Not everything can be done immediately and in this work you spend a lot of time chasing up tasks. I think a lot of services aren’t as coordinated as they think they are and that is detrimental to vulnerable people.” Shabana also highlighted the need for improved services for women who speak English as a second language, “many of the referrals I receive for domestic violence support are for women who have a language barrier. People think that accessing services is the final step in leaving an abusive situation, for but with these additional barriers it is just the beginning”. Shabana sees that the best way to overcome these issues is to have better representation across services that are supporting vulnerable people, using lived experience to shape support.
Shabana has an incredibly positive attitude, and even the challenges to her work do not deter her, “I never take anything home with me but instead add it to my learning, which makes me even more passionate about the work I do.” Outside of her role with ACP Shabana is a passionate reader, and takes a keen interest in psychology; “I love reading about the mind and I am interested in mindfulness and psychology.” Shabana is also enjoys keeping active through yoga and cycling, spending time her daughter and looking after her parents, “I like taking care of people!”.
We would like to thank Shabana for her time and being interviewed for our Spotlight On… To find out more about ACP visit their website http://acpgroup.org.uk/index.html