A Leeds community hero who never says no to helping people is celebrating 30 years of service in a city suburb.
Tahira Khan first began working for Leeds City Council in 1983 and moved into her current role at St Matthews Community Centre in Holbeck on January 15, 1989.
Ms Khan’s dedication to her role, as senior communications development officer, meant she would often find a queue of people waiting for her as she arrived at St Matthews.
Even after the drop-in surgery changed to an appointment system, she would skip lunch to squeeze in a meeting with everyone who wanted to see her.
She was finally urged to slow down in 2015 after collapsing in a client meeting - having skipped lunch - and being taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Ms Khan, 61, said: “My managers said that within five minutes of me leaving I had 15 missed calls, so now I don’t give my personal number to people. They changed the system and appointments go through the council. People who couldn’t get appointments would wait to see me by my car so now security will escort me! I never say no, my line manager always says I take too much on my plate, but I never say no to anyone.”
Ms Khan’s work at the centre includes offering benefits guidance, advising clients on their rights, assisting people with mental health issues, as well as offering counselling for “whoever needs more time to discuss their problems and needs more support.”
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Alongside the advice surgeries and activities offered on site, Ms Khan also organises activities for lower income families during school holidays such as trips to the seaside. She hopes the trips will encourage integration between families whose children attend the same school, and provide an opportunity for parents to establish good relationships with each other.
Ms Khan said a love for helping people has been her motivation throughout her career and she hopes to empower her clients to improve their circumstances, often by encouraging them to learn English and gain employment. “I like very much inspiring people to go into careers. I love it when I help them, I feel like I have achieved something. The community in Holbeck has given me a lot of respect and has always appreciated what I do, and I respect them as well. I have contacts in various departments I can direct people to - I can let the police know if there’s incidences of domestic violence to be aware of, or if people need legal advice I can put them in touch with solicitors for issues such as immigration.”
Having worked with many Holbeck residents over the years, Ms Khan remembers many special cases but said recently her work with three single parents whose partners were serving prison sentences had been particularly rewarding. The women, who were dealing with immigration issues, needed help to apply for status to live in the UK and Ms Khan also encouraged them to join Nari-Ekta, a scheme funded by Leeds City Council to enable BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) women to study English as well as providing job search skills and work experience.
“I feel quite good because the community is not always that helpful and don’t give the women respect as their partners are in prison. So I encourage them, help to build up their self-esteem and inspire them to learn and get a career so they won’t be on benefits their whole life. I’ve built up their confidence to live a better life in this society and this culture. In their cases they stayed in the house the whole time and their husbands did everything so when their partners go away they’re very isolated and relatives say they won’t help. I’m very proud that they’re learning English and are in their second year of study.
“One of the ladies has got a job in a shop and I helped another, who has very good sewing skills, to get set up with Inland Revenue to become self-employed. So she is doing really well and is also now getting working tax credits which is excellent. I really feel very proud of them.”
Over the past 30 years Ms Khan has seen the community in Holbeck go through many changes, and said that though in the past the area suffered from a lot of crime, with her own car being vandalised three times, new houses being built have started to improve things.
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Ms Khan, who lives in Alwoodley, first came to the UK from Pakistan in 1976, aged 16. Having learnt English at school she studied at Bradford and Ilkley College, graduating in Youth and Community Studies in 1982. The following year she began working for Leeds City Council and was the authority’s first ethnic minority librarian, contacting publishers to source a more diverse range of books for library users.
After working in the library for a year and a half, she then moved on to Social Services for five years assisting families in crisis before starting her current role.
When asked what has kept her in the job for so long, she replied simply: “I try my best and I really enjoy it.”