The Bangladeshi Youth Organisation is marking its 40th anniversary this summer, with a big celebration inviting local people, leaders, and investors of the organisation to join them in reflecting on the past four decades and the many more years to come.
The organisation has helped thousands of South Asian children in its four decades of operation, from Councillor Sarfraz Nazir to solicitors working at international law firms.
The youth centre, which now owns its building on Cornwall Road, started from humble beginnings. First-generation Bangladeshis in Bradford came together informally in the basement of one of the founding member’s home on Cornwall Road as a way of creating a community for themselves and helping others who recently moved from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
In 1982, the group officially registered as an organisation and in 2003, BYO registered as a limited company. One of the key players in setting up the organisation is Fazlul Haq, who is believed to be the first qualified Bangladeshi youth worker in the north of England. Mr Haq, who has since left the youth service, still works seven days a week at the BYO as the centre manager.
In Bradford, Bangladeshis only make up 1.89% of the population – just under 10,000 people. In comparison, people from the Pakistani community represent just over 20% of the people in the district at about – 107,000 in the 2011 census. Roughly 1% of the population in the district speak Bengali.
One of the biggest achievements the organisation has had is in its role in the creation of the Manningham Housing Association (MHA) in 1986. Research conducted by BYO found that the needs of South Asian and Black families moving to Bradford were not being met.
Mohammed Joynal, the project manager at BYO, attended the youth organisation as a child. During his time at the University of Bradford where he studied a degree in economics and sociology, Mr Joynal volunteered with the organisation that he once attended.
When a full-time job came available at BYO, he took it and has been working at the youth group for over two decades. He said: “One of our biggest achievements is our role in the creation of MHA. The housing association was formed following research conducted by the youth organisation found that the housing needs from minority communities arriving in Bradford were not being met.”
At the time, a lot of houses available to families were only two bedrooms which is not appropriate for Asian families. The project manager added: “Following the publication of the research, MHA was given funding and training to become a housing association specifically for South Asian families. The organisation started with two homes to manage but now looks after around 1400 homes and houses over 6,000 residents.”
The organisation’s name is slightly misleading as it doesn’t just help young people, or solely Bangladeshis for that matter, the organisation serves people men, women, and children from a variety of diverse backgrounds.
One of the projects the BYO have run recently is a three-month project helping with confidence and resilience training, providing them with skills so that they can enter the workforce for the first time.
Mr Joynal said: “The most important person in a household is the woman – the mother. She is the person that runs the house and spends the most time with the children. For children to reach their potential we need their mums to be empowered, confident, and knowledgeable on issues that may impact the family, whether it be health, screentime, education, or behaviour. This is why we ran some training that would not only empower women but help them gain skills to help with employment, so they have a level of independence.”
Another project is their holiday activities and food programme that they run in partnership with other voluntary and community organisations including Bradford Youth Service and Mary Magdalene Church. Over the summer, BYO provided 321 local children on free school meals a place to stay active and be fed, free of charge.
Increasing educational attainment for primary and secondary school children is important to the organisation, which is why for the past few years, the organisation have held weekly study support sessions.
The project manager said: “Since the pandemic hit, we know the attainment gap has widened. We know that the transition to online learning in 2020 and during the beginning of last year was detrimental to children’s learning, which is why we supported local kids by providing laptops, promoting literacy by providing books.
“Children from larger families often do not have many books to read, and if they don’t have the language skills then they will be disadvantaged at GCSE level.”
Since March 2020, the organisation has handed out over 1,000 books to local children with the help of the National Literacy Trust. “Children were not allowed out or to play anywhere, so the books were an effective way of getting them mentally active – to read and write,” Mr Joynal added.
Currently, the BYO provides three-hour study support sessions to sixty-six children living in Manningham, from primary school pupils to teenagers setting their Year 11 exams.
Students who are about to sit their GCSEs in the summer are the “most disadvantaged” groups, Mr Joynal said, because they had to switch between in-person and online learning for the past two years. The study support sessions provide an opportunity for the students to ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of maths and science, helping them achieve their potential.
The youth worker said: “The girls and the boys who came to our sessions last year have done so well. The girls we supported last year are now doing science at A-Levels and hoping to go into STEM subjects at university.”
Plans for the summer anniversary celebration have not been finalised yet but the organisation is hoping to select a date before the end of the summer term, and the start of their busiest period in the year.
“It is not every day you celebrate a fortieth anniversary, or many organisations that have been around that long,” Mr Joynal said. “We are grateful to our volunteers, to our board, and the community. We are looking forward to a massive celebration in the summer.
“BYO looks forward to rising above the challenges within the community and to support young people and the community, improving the physical and mental health of the people who use our services.”