Friday, 30th July 2021
I'm usually never lost for words to say but for the first time, I am finding it difficult to write my final farewell message as I exit Trade after 18 years.
My journey began when I first moved to Leicester 20 years ago, having left Yorkshire to be free from the cultural and societal pressures of being a gay Muslim man. I started to volunteer at Trade and realised I had a burning passion to be involved in activism for LGB&T communities and people living with HIV. So, when a job came up as a project worker at Trade I applied and got it. I never once considered I would be leading Trade 18 years on.
The two decades have been epic, and I couldn’t mention those without talking about Veronica Gannon who was part of that journey and with whom I co-directed Trade to what it is today. In the early years of our direction, for 3 years due to funding cuts, Veronica and I delivered all the services and managed all the volunteers. We worked 7 days a week with very little sleep. When I think about how we managed, it was clear we both loved the work and wanted to make a difference in the communities we were set up to help. Those moments when people said Trade was a lifeline was enough to drive us to do more. I feel blessed to have had Veronica as a work colleague and best friend. There is an amazing sense of achievement; Trade that once was a 2-person charity now has a team of 5 staff and over 30 volunteers. Trade not only has a great reputation locally but is known nationally for innovation in health promotion.
Working for Trade has been the most rewarding and life-changing experience. I have so many proud moments at Trade; starting the Red Ribbon Remembrance for World AIDS Day, representing England in Greece to qualify as a trainer for ESTICOM (European Surveys and Training to Improve MSM Community Health), winning the NHS Gem award for the first full sexual health clinic in a sauna nationally and the regional Lloyds Bank Foundation award for best charity. Trade has always been at the forefront of thinking outside of the box and I’m proud to have been part of that history. This includes creating UK’s full sexual health clinic at Pride event and creating opportunities for South Asian and other minority LGB&T communities. Being a survivor of sexual violence, I am proud to have been able to create information and put in place support for LGB&T victims of sexual abuse and violence.
A lot has happened in the 18 years at Trade and more importantly a lot of changes of equality for LGB&T people and people living with HIV. There is still a lot of work to do to tackle HIV stigma and create a world where no LGB&T person has to face discrimination or feel they cannot be themselves. It pleases me to know I have been part of a charity that has helped to make things better.
I would like to say thank you to Paul Trunkfield for always staying calm and being flexible with my demands. Paul started his role as an admin officer and by day two was explaining the importance of STI screening sat on the edge of a jacuzzi (fully clothed) to men in the sauna. It's never an office day at Trade.
Makinder Chahal - words cannot express how wonderful this man is. His passion, knowledge and ideas constantly surprise me. He has been my rock and I leave Trade knowing I have a friend and cinema buddy for life.
There is one other person who no longer resides in Leicester that I would like to thank, who made me realise change doesn’t come until you speak out and act. These words motivated me to join Trade, volunteer for Leicester Pride for 3 years to create a diverse stage presence and with their guidance and support helped me to become a leader and activist Thank you.
It is no understatement when I say it has been an enormous pleasure to lead a fantastic charity like Trade and work amongst such a wonderful team of staff, volunteers, partners, stakeholders, and community people. I am in awe of all the work every person puts in to make sure people are supported and have options even when they feel they have none available to them. You are all wonderful.
I shall be incredibly sad to leave, however, I leave with a sense that Trade is in great hands with a fantastic team of volunteers, a committed board of trustees and a staff team which includes Christian Neckles, who since joining Trade has brought fresh and modern energy to the charity, Paul Foxon who is running the Trade counselling service, and the new CEO who will take it Trade to even bigger heights.
Thank you to anyone who knows me or has been involved in Trade’s work. You have given me a wonderful bank of memories that I will cherish forever. I also want to thank all the clients I have supported and for giving me the knowledge from their experiences.
I will be leaving Trade, but I won’t be leaving my passion for activism and helping to create better and more inclusive services for LGB&T people. That’s in my DNA and will continue this work in many ways.
I hate saying goodbye so I shall end with I will see you soon.
Director June 2003 – July 2021