The well-respected retired police officer Firzana (Fiz) Ahmed QPM who committed thirty years to a career in the police force has recently joined the sofa on the daytime TV show Steph’s Packed Lunch to offer her insights into fraud and the Covid-19 vaccine, as well as providing advice to Dr Amy Kavangh. With a keen interest in fitness and the outdoors, Mrs Ahmed is now set on running in the half-marathon, the Great North Run to raise money for Cancer Research in September.
The mum-of-three served in Leeds for the first half of her career and then back to her hometown of Bradford for the latter half, where she worked as a school’s officer before moving on and becoming a women’s engagement officer, a role that has saved countless women and girls from crime and abuse in the district. Mrs Ahmed was recognised in 2019 for her contribution to the force and was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) handed over by Prince William.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Mrs Ahmed took a few months off to focus on her recovery before retiring in 2020. When not working with Steph McGovern on the show, Mrs Ahmed works as a project support officer for the Muslim Women in Prisons project, an initiative set up by Sofia Buncy, who also created the Young in Covid documentary, from the Khidmat Centres in Bradford.
Mrs Ahmed entered the force in Leeds in 1990, after a tough three months of training away from home in Durham. As a non-traditional job for South Asian people, and South Asian women, in particular, Mrs Ahmed’s parents had a split view on their child’s decision to become a police officer.
“My mum has always supported me, in whatever I wanted to do. My dad, on the other hand, wasn’t that happy to see me enter the force. One of the reasons for this is that it is not recognised as a ‘worthy’ job in the South Asian community, which is a shame.
“Being away for those three months, in the beginning, was tough as it was my first time away from home. Back in those days a lot of people had never interacted with a person like me, and they didn’t know how to interact with me, not that it makes a difference.”
Despite being in her early twenties when she signed up to the force, being a police officer wasn’t a childhood goal of hers, instead, a chance conversation with a family friend, sowed the seed of a job in the police. “I always wanted to join the military as a kid, but after a conversation with my older sister’s friend who mentioned the police, everything clicked. I knew it was what I wanted to do so I signed up.”
The decision to join the police was one of the best ones Mrs Ahmed has made. She said: “I loved what I did, I just knew it was meant to be. I was at my happiest and most creative, the opportunity to be in with the community has been incredible.”
Currently, in West Yorkshire, only 3.8% of its police officers are of Asian heritage despite more than a quarter (26.83%) of the population being of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi background. Speaking about the lack of diversity within the force, Mrs Ahmed said: “I only really saw an uptake of South Asian people in the force in the last three years of my career. It goes back to what is seen as a ‘worthy’ career again”.
As a school’s officer, Mrs Ahmed worked with young people to give them knowledge and help tackle issues surrounding bullying, cybercrime, violence, truancy, and safeguarding. “This role was all about getting young people to open up. It was about sharing my experiences and getting some of the girls to open up and have a chat with me and then letting them know that the police is there for them and giving them advice.”
Mrs Ahmed’s other role was as a women’s engagement officer, where she would engage with Bradford’s most vulnerable women by running events and projects. “My role as a women’s engagement officer was to work with women, from all different walks of life. Not only did I work with women to feel confident about reporting abuse, but I also worked with them to help them understand what a crime is, for example, domestic abuse. Some of them didn’t know what they were going through was a crime.
“I built up a rapport with women in Bradford, I had a work phone and email so that the women could contact me at any time if they needed it. Having the confidence to pick up the phone was huge, so I made sure I was always available for them.”
“Counselling has always been there for police officers if they need it”, Mrs Ahmed explains. “But there has been a change in the way mental health is approached in the force in the last few years.”
For Mrs Ahmed “it is difficult to recognise what you are going through, other people may see it, but only you can fix it. For me, I sought solace in people outside the force to confide in and seek guidance from.”
The diagnosis of breast cancer in 2015 came as a surprise to Mrs Ahmed. “I don’t drink or smoke and was active, it completely floored me. I had to take 10 months off from work to go through treatment and to recover. I missed my job.
“Cancer isn’t talked about in my community, but it needs to be, which is why I’ve been so vocal about self-testing (checking your own breasts for lumps), looking out for the letters that the NHS sends about going for mammograms and smear tests, and actually going to the appointments, not wasting their time or yours.”
When asked about why people in the community don’t talk about cancer and other ailments, she said: “I’m not sure, but I did notice something very odd when I was going through my journey with cancer. When I was at St. James’ going through chemotherapy, I was the only brown face on the ward. Every day for the four weeks I was there, I was only the only South Asian person on the ward.”
Adding to this, she said: “If you don’t have people you connect with sharing their experiences you don’t get the support you need, which is why since getting better I have worked with several different cancer projects to help other women like me.”
Discussing her Queen’s Police Medal (QPM), Mrs Ahmed said: “Words cannot describe what it was like on 19 November 2019 at Buckingham Palace with my kids, husband and mum by my side receiving the award.
“I was touching everything, taking pictures, it was unbelievable. We were walking up the steps that were graced by previous kings and queens and I could not stop thinking about how incredible it was.”
Mrs Ahmed added: “I didn’t go to university; I don’t have a degree; I am just an ordinary woman who worked hard in a career that I loved and was recognised by the Queen for it. It was so nice having my mum there, I kept thinking ‘Yes mum! You believed in me back then and now look where I am, being handed over a medal by Prince William.”
As well as working for the Muslim Women in Prison project and various cancer initiatives, Mrs Ahmed also works with the charity JU:MP, an initiative to encourage families to make use of Bradford’s wonderful outdoors and recently being asked to patron the Bradford Hate Crime Alliance. Speaking about JU:MP, she said: “I have always loved being outdoors, which is why it is important to me to encourage people to be active.
“It is important to have ambassadors for outdoor activity in all weathers, I love it, so I am not bothered. Bradford has beautiful parks to explore, in the centre or in Keighley. Lister Park and Bowling Park are two of my favourites. There is also a new app where you can find dinosaurs in some of the parks, which is a great free option for parents to entertain their children whilst still being active.”
Combining being active and working on Steph’s Packed Lunch, Mrs Ahmed joins four other runners, all of whom are male, to run in the half-marathon the Great North Run on Sunday 12 September 2021 on behalf of the show to raise money for Cancer Research. Mrs Ahmed said: “They asked me to take part in the run, and because cancer research is so close to my heart, I said ‘yes!’ I’ve been training for a while now and think I’m in pretty good shape to run it.”
Mrs Ahmed has currently raised over £600, 150% of her initial £400 target. To donate to Mrs Ahmed’s giving page, visit here.