Prestonian Javed is proud to be city’s first Muslim Mayor
Coun Javed Iqbal tells Fiona Finch about his life choices since arriving in England as a teenager and his hopes for his new role.
Javed Iqbal arrived in England in winter 1968 as a teenager from Pakistan. Not surprisingly the country seemed cold, foggy and grey to the 15 year old from Jhelum.
But when summer came he grew to love his new home town of Preston.
Now, some 54 years later, Coun Iqbal has become the city’s Mayor for 2021/22.
It has been quite a journey.
The 69 year old father of five is a magistrate, had a successful career working forthe Royal Mail, has resolutely confronted health issues, served in the Territorial Army and still lives in the house on Ribbleton Avenue he bought after marrying his childhood sweetheart Tahira in Jhelum in 1974.
After serving as a Labour councillor on Preston Council for 14 years he has, he hopes, already served the city well.
But it is not just a personal honour. Javed is aware he is also the first Muslim mayor in the city and with that comes further responsibility. The St Matthew’s ward councillor has pledged: “I will try and make some difference, especially after this pandemic.“
He is passionate about education and creating opportunities for young people and said: “If you do hard work and keep on with it success will come to you.“
One big concern for him currently is the number of young people coming into the job market at a difficult time after completing their formal education. He is a strong advocate for good apprenticeships, but is aware that these may not be available in the numbers he would like to see. He said: “I think firms need more investment in young people.”
After arriving in Lancashire he attended Brockholes Secondary school and the Moor Park Avenue Sixth Form. In turn his own children attended local schools, with two sons going on to UCLan, one of his daughters graduating from Lancaster University and another being sponsored through her studies by Barclays.
Reflecting on his children’s success has, he said, made him determined to help other young people. Javed arrived in Preston at a crossroads, having hoped to go to army school in Pakistan. He said: “I passed my national exams, the equivalent of O’ levels at 14 in the local Government school. Then I attempted to join the Pakistan army school. I lived in a village. The interviews used to be done more in English than Urdu and I couldn’t get through that. If I stayed a bit longer I probably would have been but as I was not 16 I could not really join.”
He came from a family of timber merchants and there was also a tradition of joining the forces. His father, a joiner, had left school early to help educate his siblings and after arriving in England worked at Courtaulds at Ribbleton.
Arriving to join his father it fell to Javed to learn how to cook. He recalled: “I hadn’t even boiled eggs. I had to prepare meals.”
Whereas previously immigrants had sought to return to their homeland Javed was, he explained, of that second generation who wanted to settle in Britain permanently.
He worked at Goss for two years, starting in the office, before joining the Royal Mail, working first as a postman in Preston. Then he moved to the Royal Mail’s West Cliff offices, working his way up to become Operational Manager and retiredfrom the Fulwood mail centre in 2007 due to heart issues.
What he describes as his “dicky heart” has meant he has had 11 stents, three each in 2002, 2004 and 2011 and two in December 2019, plus a quadruple bypass in 2015. Six weeks after the bypass operation he was back at work in his role as chairman of Preston Council’s planning committee. He said: “The blessing is that there’s not much else wrong with me than my heart. That’s probably more genetic really - my mother and father both had heart issues.”
Of the drive to get back to his role as councillor so promptly he said: “Where I come from, I come from the Punjab province, people are quite physical. It’s a different life there. The main occupation is either agriculture or join the forces. My grandfather was 103 when he passed away.”
His own medical history helps explain why one of his chosen mayoral charities had to be Heartbeat. The Preston based cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation charity has helped him in the past with his own recovery and he has seen how important and valued its service is, helping people regain confidence and fitness.
His second charity is Preston Domestic Violence Services, chosen because his work as a magistrate, particularly over the last few years working in the family courts has shown him how vulnerable and needful of help victims of domestic violence are. The services help both adults and children. Javed, who first became a magistrate in 1995 and is now the Presiding Justice in Lancashire Family Courts, is concerned that victims of such violence have been at greater risk throughout the pandemic.
Noting he has been “blessed” with his family he pays tribute to his wife, who he said had the hard job of caring for the family while he worked long hours to support them, memorably putting in 96 hours one week,and regularly notching up 80 or 90 hour working weeks. The couple faced heartbreak when they suffered the loss of their second child who died after a long illness at the age of six.
His wife and sister-in-law Rabina Ahmed will share the role of Mayoress. He has, he said, “never been a materialistic kind of person” and worships at a nearby local mosque, noting: “In all this chaos you need to believe in something ... you must abide by the laws where you live and you respect society.”
He said he had not thought of politics until his neighbours the late Couns Rose Kinsella and Albert Richardson encouraged him to stand. He said: "They lived down the road. When I came on the Preston (magistrates) bench two existing councillors came to my house and invited me to join the Labour party which I did. At election time I used to help them. They backed me and the rest is history.”
He never sought or wanted a cabinet post: “I’ve never been a person to get into all the politics.”
But as chairman of planning, a post he has stood down from during his mayoral year, he has witnessed many changes and developments in Preston and has had a key role in city life, seeing key changes in the planning department too.
Javed served for 12 years (1979 -1992) in the Territorial Army in England, Cyprus and Germany, becoming a Sergeant: ”In the regiment I was the only person of colour, of dark skin. If I made a mistake or dropped a clanger I was going to get noticed but on the other hand if something was good I used to get noticed..that’s probably one of the reasons I had three stripes as Sergeant."
Asked why he thought it had taken so long for a Muslim to be made mayor he said: “I feel sadly the Muslim Community has not been very active to get involved in politics. Hence there has not been too many candidates. Yes, I do feel extra burdens and responsibilities to not let the community down as well as the people of Preston.
"Being the first Muslim Mayor of Preston is a fitting acknowledgement to our multicultural city and how it continues to grow with people of different races, religions and backgrounds living and working together to bring diversity and vibrancy to where we live.”
An optimist as well as a pioneer, the 693rd Mayor of Preston concludes: “I think there is more good in people.”
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