Celebrating the women leading community business: Fazeela Hanif, Highfield Community Association

Fazeela Hanif is the manager of The Highfield Centre in Keighley, Bradford. She’s worked in the community since first volunteering as a teenager and has spent the last decade working to transform the centre into a sustainable hub for local people.

In 2018, she secured £200,641 from the National Lottery Community Fund’s Reaching Communities programme to spend on a project that set out to improve the life chances of teenagers across the whole of the Keighley Central ward in Highfield, Knowle Park, Lawkholme and Showfield. Fazeela worked and continues to work on deterring young people away from drugs, crime and antisocial behavior by providing activities for them through Youth EXCEL. Highfield Community Association was also awarded £9,993 to support local women experiencing isolation or mental health issues, particularly those from BME communities. Colourful Lives runs sessions where women can speak freely about their issues, socialise with others and build friendships.

She said: “My passion was always in terms of community work and young people and it was about making a difference because there was just nothing around for them to do. We’d arrange half-term trips for young people in quite disadvantaged areas within Keighley mostly. We started working with other organisations and developed it from there.”

Fazeela used her experience in property development to shape the future of the centre and invest in its infrastructure. She applied for a cash grant from Power to Change’s Community Business Fund to adapt and refurbish the existing sports hall and improve community activities. “I’ve always had this business head; I have a couple of properties and I’ve always been interested in property development – and I realised that’s what I needed to do for the centre.”

Fazeela said she enjoys the variety that comes with managing a community centre and setting an example to others. “I think it’s the challenges and changes – it’s the vision of seeing that, not being just a woman, it’s giving others the opportunity to think, well if she can do it, I can do it. It’s about setting that example to them. I came from a volunteering background; I didn’t go to university. I would have liked to, but unfortunately back then circumstances were different. But I got where I wanted to be.”

“Every day is different – it’s flexible, I couldn’t imagine myself doing a traditional nine-to-five job now,” she added. “I think having a vision is the most important thing and we’re living proof that these things don’t happen overnight – it’s taken us nearly 10 years to get to where we are now – but it’s paid off. That’s what is more important. You will have to struggle like all organisations do, you’ve got your Brexit and austerity, you’ve got costings etc, but it’s about working out how you can continue in the current climate. We work in partnership – that’s a key thing for us.”

Reflecting on why she thinks more and more women are finding their place in community business, she said: “There are so many women out there that do it. We’re not just here to do small office jobs, we can build multi-million pound buildings and extensions – we’re like jack of all trades. I think we know that things aren’t going to happen overnight, things are going to take time and there will be challenges along the way, but we want to reach that goal.

“Personally, I think it’s about having your own independence. It’s about building confidence, but so many women have that fear – there is the financial side and the start-up, which is completely understandable, but it’s about having that support network around you. If you’ve got other responsibilities going on it can be hard to think about how you’re going to manage it, long hours especially in the beginning. It’s about having support, and once you’ve got that the independence and the power over your own decisions you can say I’ve actually achieved this, and I’m helping others.”

What would Fazeela like people to know about her? “I’m a woman and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. If I can do it, they can do it. It is very hard, but it’s worth it. I think we get so into this mindset that sometimes we forget to think about ourselves.”

To find out about The Highfield Centre, visit their Facebook page.