Warm tributes have been paid to Leeds community stalwart Hanif Malik – chair of Beeston’s Hamara Centre – who is leaving his role after 20 years.
Mr Malik, who was named an OBE in this year’s birthday honours, has been key to transforming the centre from a tiny one-room project to one of the city’s most dynamic community organisations, running a variety of vital projects like keep-fit for older people, sessions for the learning disabled and trailblazing initiatives like a street gang project designed to reduce tensions between young people of different backgrounds.
He is credited with being a key voice in building bridges between communities, often at hugely tense times.
Among those paying tribute was Leeds council leader Judith Blake, who thanked him for helping the city through one of its darkest chapters, the 7/7 London bombings and the subsequent spotlight on Leeds.
Mr Malik is moving on to become director of operations at Wakefield based charity Penny Appeal, and will also join the board of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Councillor Blake said she had first met Mr Malik when they were both on a leadership development programme.
“Looking back to 1997, most of the people working on the programme with us spotted Hanif as a future leader,” she said.
“That passion and that determination, and just that ability to have everyone collapsing in fits of laughter, that is the thing that brings so much to the work that Hanif does.
“We as a city have been blessed with the work that Hanif has done. There were some very difficult, dark days, and knowing that Hanif was there as a rock in our community just helped us through.
“And I believe that when we talk about communities coming together and the fact that Leeds is recognised on the national stage for the work that we do - the way that we bring everyone together and think of all of those common bonds that we have - so much of that is down to what Hanif has been able to bring together at Hamara.”
Mr Malik received a standing ovation from the 400 or guests at the recent 7th annual Hamara Community Awards, where he announced his departure.
Other tributes included one from Leeds United’s community foundation, one of the many grassroots projects with which Mr Malik has forged links over the years.
Speaking of his departure, Mr Malik said: “I am going to miss Hamara hugely, it’s been such a big part of my life over the last two decades.”
He paid tribute to the staff and volunteer “family” at the centre, stressing that all the success he had achieved had been a “team effort”.
Mr Malik, 50, was born and bred in Leeds, and he said his “strong sense of loyalty to the city” means he will “continue to play a role in some capacity”.
Recalling his proudest moments, he cited receiving his OBE earlier this year and an honorary degree from Leeds Beckett as personal highlights.
Of the events following July 7, 2005 - when he was forced by circumstances to take on a de-facto police liaison and media spokesman role on behalf of a traumatised Beeston community which found itself under intense global scrutiny - he said: “I did it because it had to be done. I wanted to ensure there was no backlash. Nobody was prepared to stick up for our community.”
And speaking of the many community links he has forged and fostered over the years, he added: “So much of it is about forming friendships. None of it would have been possible without our volunteers and partners.”