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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Single Pakistani Muslim mum described as ‘human Yellow Pages’ celebrates six year milestone of NEESIE

Noreen Khan, the founder of a grassroots organisation that supports single parents, has opened up about overcoming obstacles when launching her platform as Neesie celebrates its six-year anniversary.

Neesie, a grassroots organisation that provides a platform to single mothers in Bradford and across the world, is celebrating its six-year anniversary in helping mothers and their children grow independently and better their lives.

Neesie, founded by Noreen Khan, in 2016, helps single parents and mums who do most of the parenting and their children through various programmes such as their ten-week parental engagement course, Achieving Community Excellence (ACE), and the Better Engaged Shared Treasures (BEST) programme that engages schools in a child’s early development.

Neesie was created after Ms Khan became a single mum to her son Anees, midway through her pregnancy. After a few years of talking to women in similar circumstances and becoming a “human Yellow Pages” signposting women to different organisations, Ms Khan launched the organisation.

Noreen Khan, founder and director of Neesie, a grassroots organisation for single mums.

Ms Khan started out helping a handful of mothers in her community and now spans across the Bradford district, multiple cities in England, and fourteen countries around the world. To date, Neesie has helped around 4300 women, accessing lower-level support to continuing help and assistance.

The organisation’s founder and director, Ms Khan, said: “Neesie was founded off the back of my personal story. At five-and-a-half months pregnant, I found out that I was to become a single mum.

“After a couple of years of looking at different avenues of support for single mums and not finding anything, I launched Neesie in 2016.

“By no means back in 2016 did I expect to work across sixty primary schools in Bradford and operate in Liverpool, Oldham, Birmingham and London.

“We started as a small network of mothers in Bradford District, but we soon got inundated with women saying, ‘I’m not a single mother but my partner is an absent father.’

The organisation grew organically from supporting single mothers to supporting women with partners but are not involved in parenting due to being in prison, being drug or alcohol dependent, or simply working all hours of the day.

The organisation’s bread and butter is their ACE programme, a framework that Neesie sells to schools.

Ms Khan added: “We specialise in parental engagement, predominantly through primary schools.

Mums of  Beckfoot Heaton Primary school and Crossley Hall Primary School on their course graduation celebration day with Lord Mayor, Cllr Shabir Hussain.

“We have a programme that allows us to engage with women with children, not just single mothers, where mums can opt opt-in to a ten-week course upskilling course, either through an emotional or economic framework.

“Depending on their needs, we can help with mental health, emotional stability, social anxiety, and social isolation.

“Or can help equip parents with the skills necessary to return to work or obtain work for the first time from work experience to CVs, interview techniques, and providing accredited qualifications.

“For some, this journey may only be for three or four weeks, and others, over a couple of years. It depends on the needs of a woman.

“We have a 100% increase in attainment of their children in schools. The impact is twofold, that the mum feels better and their child education’s improved.”

As a Muslim Pakistani single mother returning to Bradford after living elsewhere, there were obstacles to overcome not only launching her business but dealing with the perception of single parents in her community. Ms Khan overcame these obstacles by rejecting the labels that some may want to tarnish her with.

The voluntary charity sector director said: “From what I have learned is that a lot of the obstacles comes from being in a clan. As I’m not attached to any specific community, I was able to say what I want, when I want.

Mums from Oldham from the chai project that Neesie collaborated with.

“I am not bound by any cultural or traditional politics which gave me freedom. When you are not from Bradford, there is a bit more of an open gate, you can get away with more because you are given the benefit of the doubt. Using this, I could speak up for women bound by cultural and traditional values.

“Coming back to Bradford, I was up against a lot of stereotypes, questions over how I was going to cope, and being classed as bad luck. My parents, being very resolute and professional, did not stand by that traditional and cultural way of thinking.

“I overcame a lot of the obstacles that did come up, by simply saying ‘that doesn’t apply to me.’ Yes, I’m Muslim, yes, I’m Pakistani, but that doesn’t mean I have to conform to certain ideals.”

Having parents who not only supported Ms Khan but championed her to create something big and leave a legacy for her son, helped in establishing Neesie.

“As a Pakistani woman who is a single mother in a district like Bradford, it is important to have your parents’ backing,” she said. “My father has four daughters, and I am the only one who is a single mother, but he believes I am just as successful as my sisters.”

Like many other organisations in the voluntary sector, the pandemic had a massive impact on the company. Ms Khan describes Neesie as “surviving by the skin of our teeth.”

She said: “Last year was the hardest year for us. It was by the skin of our teeth that we survived. It was certainly an exceedingly difficult year with the injustice of funding distribution.

Rachel Bradbury from The Cellar Trust delivering mental health awareness sessions to mums of Shipley C of E primary school.

“The influx of referrals we were getting was unpreceded, especially after losing some of our staff over the past two years.”

The reason for this, Ms Khan said, is that the novelty factor of lockdown wore off and couples came to the realisation that living together in proximity all the time could become stressful.

Ms Khan expressed: “People rode the wave of the pandemic initially, but the stress started to kick in six and seven months into lockdown.

“Couples who had never faced any significant issues in the past realised that it was quite stressful living together 24/7 in a closed environment.

“With children at home, we had mums’ message and say that their children are driving them up the wall or running away.

“In the harsher cases, we found that refuge centres for women needing to get away immediately, were full and a catch-22 around social distancing and struggles of moving women out of these centres and into social housing because many housing staff were furloughed.

She added: “We got through it, we stayed resolute, and we are now coming out of the other side.

“We had major support from our board, namely our chairwoman Uzma Rashid, and vice-chair, Mohammed Dilpazir, keeping me in check and supporting us financially.

“I feel for organisations who went down during the pandemic because that could have been me. We have seen the light and can hit the ground running with the delivery of some of our programmes.”

Neesie will return as a partner in the International Women’s Day civic flag-raising ceremonial duties outside City Hall, Centenary Square on 8 March, with the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor Shabir Hussain, Neesie mums and a handful of guests, in attendance.

Ms Khan will raise the flag outside city hall and then facilitate a roundtable to discuss the barriers and biases surrounding mums who do and do not work and enjoy the momentous occasion with a high tea.

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