Thank you for everything

After 18 exciting and challenging months as Manager here at the Iqbal Centre, it's time to move on. Never an easy decision, but sometimes in life you have to face your fears, stretch yourself, and take on new challenges. Hopefully, at the same time, you've left behind a positive legacy, as you hand over the baton to someone else.

I'd just like to start by saying two very important things:

(1) I've loved (almost) every minute of time here; and

(2) This is a wonderful, more capable community than you all realise

Since starting work here in July 2018, following Mr Shabbir's retirement, I've tried to create a safe, welcoming place that the whole, diverse community can consider their community centre. A place where friendships are made, where activities take place that bring people together, opening minds and generating joy. I'll let others judge whether I've been successful.

The Iqbal Centre is YOUR community centre. As such, it is you that make it what it is. So, before anything else, it's necessary to say thank you to everyone who's made me welcome here, supported me, made me laugh, taught me so much and, on occasion, brought me Pakistani tea, pakoras and samosas! In particular, I wish to thank the members of the Board of Gladstone Connect, who have indulged my particular obsessions and given me the licence to try things out here. I'd also like to thank my fellow staff members, Janet Hagan (our cleaner and baker of amazing cakes) and Khalid Masood (our caretaker); working with you has been a pleasure.

A special word of thanks must go to two particular people, who are part of the very fabric of this Centre and the wider community: Rachel Casbon, who runs the Beeches Pre-School - always here to offer sensible advice, to support me when I've faced challenges, and adding such a vibrant element to the daily life of the Centre; Mohammed Saeed, from Community First, whose friendship has kept me going and added a very welcome new dimension to my life. Oh, the laughs we have had together!

Looking back over my time here, I'm particularly proud that we have seen much increased use of the Centre by various women's groups and activities. There remains much more to be done, but I believe that the Centre is in good hands as we move forward. It would be great to have more children's activities here, too, as well as seeing some of the more recent arrivals to our city making use of our wonderful facilities.

Personally, I'm delighted to have been able to improve the external appearance of the Centre through the creation of the stunning Iqbal Pocket Park, packed as it is with flowering plants attractive to butterflies and bees. It was such an oasis of calm last summer, and I've got a feeling that the display will be even bigger and better this year (I'll still be dropping in to see how it's going). We've also got plenty of opportunities for local residents to get involved and grow their own herbs, vegetables and fruits, here in our community garden. Why not give it a go?!

Then there's the infamous Thursday Club, set up with funding from the City Council to combat loneliness by offering a varied, fun programme of events and activities for older people to come together and enjoy. It's really developed and is now open to everyone to attend, every Thursday afternoon between 2-4pm. A really lovely group of people, who I've grown to love very much. Long may it continue.

I've been really touched by the lovely messages of support and best wishes for the new chapter in my life, starting on 16th March (I'm off to work for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, initially in London). I am not disappearing altogether, as I will still live locally. I love this place and will continue to follow its progress and, who knows, I'll probably turn up for a spot of gardening now and then.

In the meantime, please give a special welcome to the new Centre Manager and give them your love and support. It's not an easy task, running a community centre and trying to keep everyone happy, all of the time. But, it can be hugely rewarding when you're able to make even a small difference to people's lives.

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