Mela driving force is made a Teesside hero

July 3rd, 2014

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An adopted Teessider who has helped to build Middlesbrough Mela into the North-East’s largest multi-cultural celebration has been recognised for his dedication and commitment to bringing communities together.

Bangladeshi-born Zafar Uddin is the latest winner of a Teesside Heroes Award, presented by Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.

In a presentation made by Foundation patron Bill Scott and Glyn Pemberton of the charity’s patrons Active Chartered Financial Planners, Zafar received a gleaming trophy together with a £1,000 cheque that he has donated to next year’s Mela.

It is fitting reward for a community champion who has spent the last 18 years helping to build Middlesbrough Mela into a hugely popular annual carnival, whilst carrying out a range of other voluntary roles alongside his full-time job in social care.

Although he did not move to Teesside until 1975 when he was 18, Zafar says Middlesbrough is now a true home for him and his family.

“I am very much a British Bangladeshi now,” said Zafar, a former Mela chairman, who last year won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BME Network. “Middlesbrough is my home and is very close to my heart, so I was speechless when I heard that I was to receive a Teesside Heroes Award.

“It means everything to me to be recognised in this way for what I do but I dedicate the award to all of the brilliant organisations I support. I just believe in giving others the same opportunities I had when I came to Middlesbrough.”

Born in Chittagong, the second largest city in Bangladesh, Zafar followed his father to Teesside in 1975. It is his parents, Nurul Ahmed and Sanon Afroz Begum who he says remain the inspiration in his life years after they passed away.

“I received all this encouragement and guidance from my parents,” he said. “Dad always believed in helping other people and he passed that philosophy on to me. When people need help, I try to do what I can.

“It was a culture shock for me to come to Middlesbrough from Bangladesh as a teenager, unable to speak English. When I see people struggling, especially those who can’t speak the language, I can understand what they are going through.”

A social worker for Stockton Council’s fostering and adoption team, Zafar has been a trustee for Middlesbrough’s Citizens Advice Bureau since 1997, is a serving member of the NHS Foundation Trust and was a Teesside magistrate for more than a decade.

He chaired the Bangladesh Muslim Welfare Association for more than 20 years, was director of a community venture helping underprivileged families in Thorntree and has previously served many years as a governor at both Archibald and Stainton primary schools.

Other community roles have included more than 25 years serving on the committee of the Redcar and Cleveland Islamic and Quranic Cultural Association, five years as chair of Redcar and Cleveland Multicultural Association, vice-chair of Cleveland Racial Equality Council, chairing the International Community Centre’s management committee and six years as general secretary of Tees Valley Bangladeshi Association.

He also chairs the management committee for Ma O Shisu Unnayon (MOSUM), a mother and child development programme that teaches community language to children and young people born and brought up in the UK.

But the community project closest to Zafar’s heart is Middlesbrough Mela, a multi-cultural celebration of diversity and ethnicity that attracts up to 50,000 people a year.

As a proud committee member and current vice-chairman, he is now working with Middlesbrough Council and his fellow volunteers to make next year’s 25th anniversary event the biggest and best.

It was his fellow Mela committee members who nominated him as a Teesside Hero.

“The Mela started out small but I’m proud to have played my part in seeing it grow and grow, year on year,” he said. “It’s like seeing your baby growing.

“It’s a fantastic event for racial harmony and so significant for the community in the North-East. It brings everyone together, of all races and backgrounds, young and old. This is why I do as much as I can.

“I do like to do what I can for the local Bangladeshi community, as I believe it’s important that they don’t lose touch with their cultural identity, but integrating them with all aspects of the Teesside community is important too. That’s what the Mela does so well.”

Andy Preston, chairman of the Philanthropic Foundation, said: “Having spent time at last month’s Mela with my family, I know what a fantastic event it is for Teesside. We can all be grateful to Zafar for the grate work he and the rest of the committee have done for the event and the town.”

Zafar missed last month’s Mela – only the second one he has ever missed – when attending the wedding of his daughter Sheully – herself a former member of the Mela committee – in Toronto, Canada.

“It was hard to miss it but family come first,” said Zafar, who attended the wedding his wife Polly and son Raihan.

But he arrived home to discover he had been given more community responsibility. In his absence, he had been elected chairman of Middlesbrough’s Park Ward Community Council, a role he previously held for nine years before standing down due to ill health.

Along with Active Chartered Financial Planners, the Philanthropic Foundation’s generous corporate patrons include Erimus Insurance Brokers, Endeavour Partnership, Bulkhaul, Glanbia Performance Nutrition, Macks Solicitors, SABIC, AV Dawson, Ecco Finishing Supplies, Devereux Transport, Evolution, Visualsoft, Stockton Machine Company, Middlesbrough FC, First Choice Labels, Unasys, Cleveland Cable Company, px Group and Cool Blue PR.

Along with Bill Scott, individual patrons are Andy Preston, Nigel Williams, Ian Tracey, Mark Bolland, the McCullagh family, Rob McLaughlin, Ali Miremadi, Steve Nichols, Barney Ord, the Wadsworth family, Simon Scotchbrook and the Sizer Family.

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