21-year-old Leeds man wins prestigious Diana Award for relentless campaigning on issues such as knife crime

A 21-year-old from Leeds has won a Diana Award for his relentless campaigning on issues such as knife crime.
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The Diana Award is given to those who are considered changemakers for their generation and is named after Princess Diana, who died 25 years ago.

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Among the people honoured as a changemaker this year was Arqam Al-Hadeed of Alwoodley, a young man who has dedicated most of his life to fighting for causes he believes in.

Arqam has been campaigning since he was nine years old. Credit: Safa AhmedArqam has been campaigning since he was nine years old. Credit: Safa Ahmed
Arqam has been campaigning since he was nine years old. Credit: Safa Ahmed
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Arqam arrived in the United Kingdom at a young age and could not speak English, nor was he familiar with the culture

Living in Scotland initially, he was inspired by his own difficulties to stand up and push for change on behalf of those who had similar experiences but felt unable to speak out.

"I wasn’t born in the UK, I moved here very young, I think in year three,” he said. “I couldn't really speak the language, I wasn’t familiar with the culture.

"That meant I had a really tough time at school, so I always kind of wanted to, when I did learn the language and got into this society, make a change and make a positive change for people like me, who couldn't be heard.”

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His activism started when he was nine years old in Scotland, as he found it difficult to turn a blind eye to anything he deemed could be improved.

"Whenever I saw an issue with school, even a small issue like the need for more menu options for primary school kids and high school kids, [I got involved],” he said. “Issues that affect young people drive me.”

After moving to Leeds, he was elected as a Youth MP and has represented the young people of the city in the House of Commons.

A particular area of interest for Arqam has been knife crime, an issue he raised in a House of Commons sitting of the youth parliament following the fatal stabbing of Harehills teenager Irfan ‘Iffy’ Wahid.

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Irfan was just 16 when he died in February 2017, and Arqam was inspired by the tragedy to push for more action to address knife crime

"It was really upsetting to me,” Arqam said. “I raised the issue in the House of Commons and it got international and national media attention.

"It was something that really drove the campaign forward. I spoke to young people in Harehills after and some of them were so vulnerable that they were just carrying a knife and using vocabulary like ‘I carry a knife because I feel like a superhero, I want to protect myself’.

"It just shows the mentality that some people have and it’s really upsetting. If we counter that and raise awareness, it could make such a big difference.”

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Arqam was given a standing ovation following his impassioned speech on knife crime in the House of Commons.

"It was just an amazing response from the public and that motion got passed,” he said. “It became one of the national campaigns for the UK Youth Parliament. What that meant was that we campaigned throughout the country.

"There's a big stigma around police that if you speak to police, your snitching to them, so [we are] breaking those stereotypes and building bridges between the police and the young people.

"I really don’t think these young people have enough information.”

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His work to combat knife crime earned him a gong at the 2019 British Muslim Awards, a ceremony he left with the Young Muslim Achiever of the Year award.

He has also spearheaded campaigns focusing on mental health and human rights, and has won several accolades for his pursuit of change.

The former Allerton High School pupil was even commended by the Pakistan prime minister for his campaigning for action to address the Kashmir conflict.

"Kashmir is a very big problem when it comes to human rights,” he said. “People in Kashmir don't have basic human rights. I spoke on that when I went to Pakistan and my work on the Kashmir issue and on human rights was awarded by the prime minister Imran Khan at the time.”

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He has also dedicated himself to charity work, raising money for the likes of Water Aid and climbing Ben Nevis to direct funds towards research into cancer treatment.

Tessy OJO CBE, CEO of the Diana Award, said: “We warmly congratulate our new Diana Award recipients from the UK and across the world who are changemakers for their generation. It is especially poignant as we remember Princess Diana twenty-five years on.

"We know by receiving this honour they will inspire more young people to get involved in their communities and begin their own journey as active citizens.”

Arqam hopes his work inspires more young people to engage with serious issues and follow him into the world of activism and campaigning.

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"I think these awards motivate other young people like me, not just people from ethnic minorities, but young people in general,” Arqam said. “There's a massive stereotype with young people not being taken seriously when it comes to politics or issues. Because they can't vote. I don’t think anyone under the age of 18 is taken seriously.

"I think it really motivates and drives young people when they see other young people doing well. I love the awards that celebrate young people and celebrate all the young people across the world that have brought a positive change.

"I think the whole point is to motivate other young people to do things like this, because that's when it makes a real change.”