Preston Muslim Forum: the city's 'one-stop shop for the BAME community' out to promote cohesion and understanding

Having helped found the Preston Muslim Forum in 1992 and having worked in the voluntary sector for over three decades, Ayub Bapu is unequivocal: the fact that the forum operates in one of the most deprivation-stricken parts of the entire country only makes their work that much more invaluable.

By Jack Marshall, Reporter
Thursday, 16th December 2021, 4:55 am
Preston Muslim Forum's women's lunch club
Preston Muslim Forum's women's lunch club

“We’re located in an area where people are faced with countless barriers to access to information, advice, and services as well as language barriers, so we’re there to act as an intermediary,” says Ayub of the service. “Over the years, we’ve grown due to demand. It’s just a case of prioritising other people’s needs.”

Dedicated to improving the lives and well-being of BAME communities as well as society at large in the city by fostering understanding and cooperation between different groups, the Preston Muslim Forum has been a lifeline to countless households over the decades. For many, their presence at the Hamaara Centre provides a crucial sanctuary.

Vital advocates for the voiceless, the PMF offers a raft of services, including employment support, learning opportunities and language skills, leisure activities to help combat loneliness and improve physical and mental well-being, coffee mornings, weekly lunch clubs for both men and women, a play-group for toddlers, welfare and benefits support, and employment advice.

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A Preston Muslim Forum gardening group

“Preston Muslim Forum specialises in meeting the socio-economic, educational environmental, and well-being needs of the BAME communities in Preston which are subject to multiple disadvantages,” says Ayub, 62, who has lived in Preston most his life. “We’re a one-stop shop for people and we’re located in the heart of the community, so we’re always on-hand.

“Covid was a difficult time,” he adds. “There was panic and fear in the community and, while we had to suspend group activities, we were able to offer one-to-one guidance in accordance with the safety measures in place and offered a telephone support service. We made sure to reguarly call some of our more vulnerable service-users because people’s needs didn’t just go away.

“We also partnered with the local mosque and other community groups to turn the centre into a volunteering hub to look after the vulnerable through anything from shopping to collecting medication,” continues Ayub. “We were a great lifeline for people and all credit goes to our bank of 60-odd volunteers, all of whom have been wonderful.”

Having taken their services online and over the phone where possible during the pandemic, the PMF - whose premises are also available to hire - is now almost back to full-capacity again. After resuming in-person services post-lockdown they are once again working full-pelt to build people’s confidence, improve their quality of life, and reduce social isolation in Preston.

A Preston Muslim Forum exercise class

From their open and accessible drop-in service for those looking to access advice and information to their yoga sessions, every service offered by the PMF is free and carried out by qualified, culturally-sensitive, and bilingual staff and volunteers whose aim is to provide people with an empathetic first point of contact regardless of the nature of their query.

“Personally, I find the work very rewarding; I’ve been involved in the voluntary sector for the best part of 30 years now so I’ve always loved giving back to the community,” explains Ayub. “When we help people overcome issues and see them benefit from the advice or guidance we offer, the thank-yous and commendations we get are really heart-warming.

“Hopefully we can get more things on our schedule to help people now that lockdowns have been lifted and the aim is to get people using the centre more at weekends, too,” adds Ayub.“People come to us in genuine need and, when we can help, they let you know what it really means to them, which is lovely.

“That’s what keeps you going.”