7th April 2020

Culture / Featured / Zia Chaudhry

The Foundation for Citizenship by Zia Chaudhry MBE

2 9 mins 0

ZZia Chaudhry MBE, a criminal barrister and author of Just Your Average Muslim, is one of Liverpool’s best-known community activists. Now as Director of the Foundation for Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University, Zia ensures the University maintains strong and innovative partnerships with community organisations, maximising opportunities for students to contribute positively to society.

Liverpool John Moores University is one of those post-1992 universities which arose from institutions dating back to the early 19th century. It is a civic university and the significance of that was restated in the 2019 report, Truly Civic, by the University Partnerships Programme Foundation which clarified that;

“Civic universities are related to their place. Their name, history and the demographics, labour market, and wider economic context has always influenced what the university did and was. They are also increasingly involved in an activity that makes life healthy, meaningful and pleasurable for local people: including education more broadly, and arts and culture. Without them, many places would be poorer on most measures”.

In short, LJMU’s commitment is not only to its students (almost half of whom come from the Merseyside area) but also to its surrounding communities.

When looking at the issues facing these communities it is worth remembering that the Liverpool City Region contains some of the most deprived boroughs in the country which inevitably face a plethora of problems. There are those who argue that such problems will be exacerbated post-Brexit whilst others remind us that they have been exacerbated ever since the financial crash of 2008. Whichever may be the more accurate assessment, the fact is that real people and real lives are being affected on a daily basis and it is incumbent on those individuals and organisations who are able to address this, to do so.

Real people and real lives are being affected on a daily basis and it is incumbent on those individuals and organisations who are able to address this, to do so.

Zia Chaudhry

The Foundation for Citizenship helps in that civic role of engaging with the wider community by serving as a bridge between the University and the community. It makes links with community organisations and gets a true insight into the issues faced by it (which are not necessarily the ones presumed by outsiders). Then the Foundation is able to try and respond to those problems by harnessing the expertise and resources available at the University. Often this expertise is already being put to the use of the wider community such as with LJMU’s Public Health Institute which specialises in applied research and educational programmes addressing health issues at all levels from policy development to service delivery, and works in partnership with health services, local authorities, judicial bodies, environmental services and community groups. I see the Foundation as the University’s ambassador and get immense satisfaction from highlighting some of the great work of my colleagues, whether in public health or any other field.

I also see part of that ambassadorial role as brokering relationships between the University and the community. One such example is our partnership with the Furniture Resource Centre, a local social enterprise, which now collects the IT equipment which we no longer have use for, securely wipes it, refurbishes it to a high standard and then sells at a nominal price or donates it to other individuals or even organisations. Some of the beneficiaries of the scheme have included deprived schools with limited budgets who were now able to replace their entire IT suite rather than just the odd computer and refugee families who could now access education and other services and thereby participate fully in the life of this country.

Some of the University’s partnerships, perhaps at the more high-brow end of the spectrum, are with Arts and Cultural organisations whereby our students are able to access cultural opportunities which they may otherwise not have done, but even here the financial support provided to the arts organisations enables them to widen their reach to sections of the community which may not have formed their traditional audience and may not have had access to cultural offerings seen as the preserve of the select few.

The partnerships can also be more low-key such as when the Foundation is approached by a smaller community organisation which is simply looking for some volunteers. And if they are, they have come to the right place as LJMU has developed an enviable culture of volunteering. In 2018 the University published its Making an Impact report which highlighted that in 2017 our students and staff between them contributed over 1 million hours of voluntary support to the community across Liverpool City Region and the North West. 71% of our staff worked as volunteers, donating 249,000 hours of their time to support a wide range of good causes, equivalent to every member of LJMU staff completing 2 weeks of voluntary work each year.

All of this may seem on the face of it to be a world away from the role I played for 27 years, practising as a criminal barrister with my daily diet of prosecuting and defending those accused of serious crimes. That was a career which provided many challenges and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a much more stressful life than I now have, but a key part of it was being an advocate for those who did not have a voice. That, in turn, got me involved in interfaith and other community work so in some respects my role at the university is not so surprising and is just an extension and formalisation of the work I had been doing in my spare time anyway. And I still get to exercise any advocacy skills I may possess by getting out into the community and speaking at various schools and colleges to try and inspire young people to achieve as much as they can in their lives, and at other community organisations to remind adults that it is never too late to learn new skills.

When problems affect whole communities rather than just individuals, then those challenges are best met with collective, community solutions which are only possible if that community is connected.

Zia Chaudhry

Life is about challenges –in that there is nothing new– whether they are the economic challenges of a post-Brexit world, or the challenges of knife crime and youth disaffection. But when problems affect whole communities rather than just individuals, then those challenges are best met with collective, community solutions which are only possible if that community is connected. It is for this reason that I derive such pleasure from being in my current role and being able to facilitate connections which have a real impact on people’s lives. Like many other people I can be filled with despair at what seems to be the ever-increasing hatred and bigotry that we appear to be surrounded by, but take heart at the endless possibilities that exist to counter this with empathy, understanding and knowledge.  There are good people with good ideas everywhere, we just need to build more bridges in order to reach them.

 

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Zia Chaudhry

Zia Chaudhry MBE, a criminal barrister and author of Just Your Average Muslim, is one of Liverpool’s best known community activists. Now as Director of the Foundation for Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University, Zia ensures the University maintains strong and innovative partnerships with community organisations, maximising opportunities for students to contribute positively to society.

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