Ash Siddique has been a trustee of the Al Madina mosque in Barking, east London for more than three decades. He recently retired from the police force, but if you think he’s a man who’s easing himself gently into a quieter life… think again.
Ash set up and oversees the sports and social programmes that run at Al Madina – covering everything from advice on running a small business to Zumba. All are funded through the mosque, and all are helping educate and empower local people of many different faiths and ethnicities who are welcome at Al Madina as part of Ash’s work to put the mosque at the heart of a connected community.
“We try lots of different ways of engaging,” Ash explains. “We use sport to reach young people, which helps them build fitness and confidence, and also counters the negative influences that exist in the area. We also make visits to older people in the community to tackle isolation and loneliness, as well as bring them in to the mosque for a meal once a week.”
Ash and the Al Madina team receive their Connecting Communities Award at the 2017 BEDSAs from host Lennie Henry (third from right) and Spirit of 2012 Chief Executive Debbie Lye
Ash is clear that working cooperatively with other organisations across the borough is secret to his success. “We run an outreach programme for homeless people in the area, working with a local church and synagogue to provide showers, meals, medical advice, clothing and other welfare. And we’ve established an Entrepreneur Network that offers training and development of all kinds, creating a skills exchange where different members of the community can share their expertise in areas like law, finance or community advice.”
Al Madina’s sports programmes for young people – which include boxing, tennis, karate, yoga, badminton and cricket – won Ash and his team the Spirit of 2012 Connecting Communities Award at last year’s British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards (BEDSAs). The award recognises organisations, individuals or projects which have had a significant impact on bringing local communities together through sport or physical activity.
“We reach out to nearly 400 youngsters every week through our sports programme,” says Ash. “It is an incredibly rewarding part of my work, seeing boys and girls grow in confidence and also being able to steer them towards positive action. Since we won the BEDSA in 2017 we’ve seen a steady increase in the numbers of young people coming to Al Madina, from right across the borough. The challenge now is to try to meet demand.”
The Al Madina centre welcomes around 12,000 people per week, most but not all to worship at the mosque. “We’re very proud that we welcome all-comers,” Ash says. “We want to show that the Muslim community here is open, engaged and welcoming, and that we’re making a positive contribution to Barking as a whole. There’s still plenty of work to do, but we’re always looking at ways of scaling up so we expand the community connections that have grown here.”
Click here to visit the Al Madina Centre website