Patchwork Foundation: providing a sense of family for young people

Harris Bokhari OBE (Maths and Management 1999) on making positive change.

Interview: Megan Welford / Photography: Hannah Maule-ffinch

Portrait of Harris Bokhari OBE

Original Article on this link

It’s easy to identify the inspiration behind my charity, the Patchwork Foundation – my father, Naz Bokhari. After his death in 2011, my sister, Hina, and I mapped out all that he had achieved and what would complement it. We started the Naz Legacy to promote education and integration, and the Patchwork Foundation came out of it. The aim is to connect disadvantaged young people, who are often locked out of society, with civic life.

My father was the first Muslim headmaster in the UK, at Ernest Bevin College, a secondary school in Tooting, and we were amazed at just how loved and respected he was. In the last two days he was in hospital before he died, we sent out an open invitation and a thousand people came to visit. He’d always been so low-key – he drove us into Buckingham Palace one day to get his OBE as if we were going on just another trip.

We grew up in Epsom, Surrey, where we were the only non-white family, and spent weekends in north London, Birmingham or Leicester setting up chairs in community halls or organising sports. We drank weak lemon squash and ate rice and mince from Tupperware containers. It was fun for us – we didn’t know we were participating in community events and helping people. But our father brought us up to give back, to try to make positive change in our environment.

I am so lucky to have had my father’s love and that my mother is my shoulder to cry on. In the Patchwork Foundation, we try to provide that sense of family for young people. Individuals provide the spark, but family is what allows you to achieve something. My dad advised me to become an accountant (rather than a teacher like everyone else in my family), and for that I am grateful. It allows me to do what I do, and I love it. I’ve always been comfortable with numbers – I like things to add up. Lots of things in society don’t add up, like me having a full fridge when others don’t.

Sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming, so I keep handwritten thank-you notes people have given me in my pocket. When someone says, “I’m alive because of you”, you know why you do what you do.

Harris Bokhari OBE won Imperial’s inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award in 2020.

Charities need to adapt to survive the virus

Orginal article published in the Eastern Eye on 7th April 2020

The last few years have been volatile for the charity sector, with 2019 seeing a twenty seven per-cent increase in charity closures from 2018. Against this backdrop, the sector is now grappling with the implication of the Covid-19 outbreak. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), has predicted that the voluntary sector will face a £4.3 billion drop in its income over the next twelve weeks. Most charities do not have the savings or tangible assets to sustain these sorts of losses for more than a few weeks, meaning that many of them might be forced to close down. Could Covid-19 spell the end of the charity sector as we know it?

The third sector is of massive social and economic value to the nation, with nearly a million employees and £50 billion in total income.

Over the coming weeks and months, these charities will be providing crucial auxiliary support to help our infrastructure deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also important to remember that these charities are an important support system for the most disadvantaged in our communities. It was great to see the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak announce bold measures to protect jobs over the coming weeks, and the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden ensuring that these measures will apply to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the charity sector, whilst also offering charities support to coordinate volunteers, in aid of their response to the crisis.

Oliver has a track record of understanding the importance of the charity sector; he was the tutor for the first Patchwork Foundation Masterclass at Downing Street, where he inspired several disadvantaged young people to go on to work in Whitehall and even in his own Department of Culture.

Despite this, the NCVO, senior charity leaders and many MP’s have argued that without drastic sector-specific measures, such as an immediate cash injection, many charities will be forced to close.

Charities and communities operating in London are going to have their hands particularly full, given the higher prevalence of Covid-19 cases in London. With this in mind it was good to see that the City Bridge Trust have pledged over one million towards a new emergency support fund to support community and voluntary organisations in London.

The Government have acted decisively to relieve some of the burden on the charity sector in the coming weeks. Charities themselves will need to adapt to the circumstances, making more use of the online space. Many forward thinking charities have already started to make this adjustment well before the pandemic, in recognition that this is the most effective way to support our new generations, who spend more of their time online. A good example of this is the Princes Trust, who had introduced an online mentoring services for young people across their programmes.

Perhaps the challenges of the coming weeks and months, will force more charities to become fit for purpose for the realities of our current society. For those that do not adapt, this may indeed spell the end.

A diverse cabinet is great, but can Boris Johnson’s team actually deliver policies which reflect our diversity?

In 2019 it should be a given, not only for our government but also for the opposition and other political parties, that they seek to build a leadership that represents all of us.

Original article published on 3rd August 2019

Boris Johnson has brought together the most diverse cabinet in our political history, to match the most diverse parliament that has ever been elected, but the big question is whether his new top team can actually tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing our diverse communities.

There have only previously been 12 bearers of the great offices of state – prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary – who have been a woman, or from an ethnic minority, in our history. Nine of them have been members forming part of Conservative cabinets.

From watching his mother scrubbing the “P-word” off the front of his parents’ shop, to becoming the new chancellor, Sajid Javid’s appointment makes history as the first occupant of No11 from an Asian-Muslim heritage. This is not the first time Javid has broken new ground. At every department he led – culture, business, communities and the Home Office – he has made history. 

Priti Patel’s appointment as Home Secretary means she has become the first ethnic minority woman to hold one of the great offices of state. Her parents fled from Uganda and established a chain of newsagents. 

The impact of this cannot be underestimated. My work with the Prince’s Trust charity Mosaic has shown me that having role models for young people, who look like them and come from the same background can be transformative – developing an “if they can do it, so can we” attitude. 

The appointment of Munira Mirza as one of Boris’s top advisers also puts into sharp focus the absence of any meaningful diversity in Theresa May’s senior advisory team. While initiatives such as the Race Disparity Audit are important steps towards publicising racial inequalities across the public sector, without diversity in representation among the people who actually have the power to make policy decisions, the changes we need to see happen won’t be forthcoming. 

In 2019 we shouldn’t simply be hoping for a diverse cabinet – it should be a given, not only for our government, but also for the opposition and the other political parties that seek to represent us. At a time when our country is more divided than ever, the need for our political leaders to unite our different patchwork of communities has never been more important. Our politics and policy-making can only be as good as the diverse range of voices within it.

Analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows the ethnic pay gap is still at worrying levels. Our workers from ethnic minority communities are paid less on average than their white British colleagues and, for the first time, there more ethnic minority youths in young offender institutions than white British youngsters.

Muslim sports heroes like Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have helped to bridge Britain’s toxic cultural divides

From prostrating in gratitude to running away from the sprays of champagne after a victory, they have helped to debunk the Islamophobic narratives we’ve become so used to seeing in this country.

Original article published on 17th July

After the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, when Muslims across the country came under increased scrutiny, the now disgraced public relations guru Max Clifford said the only way for British Muslims to repair their image in the public eye would be to produce a homegrown David Beckham.

Eighteen years on, when England’s Cricket World Cup-winning captain, Dublin-born Eoin Morgan, was asked if it was the luck of the Irish that helped them win, he smiled and replied: “We had Allah with us as well. I spoke to Adil Rashid, he said Allah was definitely with us. I said we had the rub of the green. That actually epitomises our team. We’re from quite diverse backgrounds and cultures and guys grow up in different countries.”  

An England captain would never have been able to say that 10 years ago, and, more importantly, the British public would never have been so relaxed about this statement in the past. So has sports now started to change the perceptions of British Muslims?

I first witnessed these changes during the 2012 London Olympics as I cheered “Go Mo, Go Mo, Go Mo” with the 50,000 other spectators in the Olympic Stadium and millions watching on television, as (now Sir) Mo Farah won the 5,000 metres, claiming his second gold of the games. But it was only when a white English mother turned to her young son in front me and said “when you grow up, I’d love for you to be like Mohamed Farah” that the enormity of the statement made by this black, immigrant, Muslim by not just being accepted but wholeheartedly celebrated by mainstream society truly impacted me.

Years later, it wasn’t, however, a British Muslim Premier League footballer who was to really make a sea change in the way British Muslims are perceived by the public, but a hero born in Egypt. Research by Stanford University found a drop of just under 19 per cent in anti-Muslim hate crimes on Merseyside in the period since Mo Salah signed for Liverpool in 2017, as well as the halving of anti-Muslim tweets by Liverpool fans compared to other Premier League clubs.

Muslim sporting heroes in Britain, from Cricket World Cup winners Adil Rashidand Moeen Ali to Olympic gold medallist Sir Mo Farah and Champions League winners Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, are all loved by adoring fans for being great sporting heroes who just happen to be Muslim. Through their confidence to practice their faith at the greatest sporting stages, they have helped to reclaim the true spirit of Islam. Either by being able to say Allah Akbar (God is great), prostrate in gratitude, or to even run away from the sprays of champagne after a victory, they have normalised and given respect back to ordinary British Muslims who are just like everyone else. They have demystified the faith on mainstream British platforms, and there is no greater example of the effects of that feat than hearing celebrating football fans from all faiths singing “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, if he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too.”

Harris Bokhari is founder of the Patchwork Foundation

The Queen’s Birthday Honours List reflects the great contribution of our ethnic minorities

Sonita Alleyne Is the next master of Jesus College, Cambridge

Original article published on 7th July 2019

By Harris Bokhari

It was only last month that we finally had the first black women appointed to lead an Oxbridge college. It has taken over nine hundreds years for these elite institutions to elect Sonita Alleyne as the next master of Jesus College, Cambridge. This has taken far too long.

Harris Bokhari OBE

The need for change was highlighted days before this announcement, by the University of Oxford promising a “sea-change” in admissions, with plans for a quarter of their students to come from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2023, many who will be made up from BAME communities.

Therefore, there is no better time for us to celebrate the great work that has been done to reform another former stronghold of elitism, the Honours list, and proudly highlight some of the great contributions made by our BAME communities who have been recognised.

There is no-one more noteworthy in this year’s list, who has transformed the lives of hundreds of young men of British African Caribbean heritage who have the academic ability to attend university but are held back by other factors, than Colleen Amos.

Colleen Amos

Awarded an OBE, Colleen is a member of the Windrush generation who turned her passion for education and tackling underachievement by founding the Amos Bursary. Through her expert skills of bringing together elite universities and our leading international firms, providing internships and personal development programmes, she has transformed the live of countless young men to secure professional careers and by developing them into our country’s future leaders.

It is also heartwarming for me to see the number of young members of our BAME communities, especially women, who are making an impact not only in this country but across the world. Look no further than the inspirational Nimco Ali being awarded an OBE. One of our country’s leading feminist and social activists who co-founded the Daughters of Eve, a survivor-led organisation that has helped transform the approach to ending FGM by offering holistic support to survivors of the practice.

Nimco Ali

However we can only have a truly reflective and inclusive honours list when our central BAME reformers receive the highest level of awards; and this year that was reflected by awarding of a knighthood to Sir Simon Woolley. Awarded the GG2 Pride of Britain Award in 2013, Simon is one of our country’s leading civil rights campaigners, founding Operation Black Vote over 20 years ago, he has transformed the way BAME communities engage in our democratic progress.

Sir Simon Woolley

The recognition of Sir Simon, Colleen and Nimco sends a strong message about how diverse and inclusive our honour list has become and as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan highlighted recently: “diversity make us stronger” as a nation.

But there is also so much more we can and should do and we can only do this together, so remember to keep on nominating our BAME heroes at and ensure our representation doesn’t become something to highlight but simply the true reflection of the great contributions BAME communities make in the UK.

The volunteer groups that underpin Britain’s minorities are going unrecognised – but you can help

But despite the number of ethnic minority groups providing voluntary services to our local communities, not enough of them were represented on the list for this years Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

Original article published on 1st July 2019

Nine years ago, David Cameron launched the Big Society, “encouraging people to take an active role in their communities” through volunteering. However for many of our diverse and minority immigrant communities, local voluntary groups have been providing essential services for them to thrive and progress ever since they first settled here.  

This may have been partly due to the need to navigate a complex bureaucracy, as well as some communities’ mistrust of the establishment. There is also a long tradition of voluntary service in these under-represented communities, which stems from their countries of origin or the faith they practice: from Indian Sikh voluntary groups providing food to the homeless to Polish Catholic communities providing English lessons.

But despite the number of ethnic minority groups providing voluntary services to our local communities, not enough of them were represented on the list for this years Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS). Overshadowed by the main honours list, the QAVS is also a part of the honours system and is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK, recognising exceptional service within their communities. 

Despite a record number of nominations and recipients this year, voluntary groups from our diverse communities are still not adequately represented compared to their place in society as a whole. 

Some do get recognised. If it wasn’t for award winners like “Descendants”, an Acton-based arts-focused community project, hundreds of young people of African and Caribbean descent would not have developed a knowledge of their ancestry, how to use this to celebrate their abilities and have a positive social impact locally.

The growing increase of knife and gang crime would be worse if it wasn’t for the work by volunteers from groups like the award winners “Fitzrovia Youth in Action.” Set up by young people, they support disadvantaged youth in developing projects which support the issues they care about including community cohesion, healthy living, conflict, drugs and alcohol.

These are just two examples of the hundreds of exceptional ethnic minority voluntary groups across our country, groups who are making a real change in our society. A number of these voluntary groups, who are now becoming more important than ever, rely on the support and recognition of the impact of their work to survive. 

A national honour is both a vindication of those efforts and an encouragement for the future. And more, honouring these volunteering groups can act as a way to heal wounds and provide recognition for communities that may feel increasingly disenfranchised, which is hugely important in an increasingly fractious and polarised society.

The government sets out clear guidelines, on how to nominate a voluntary group. But we will only increase the recognition of our country’s diverse voluntary groups if we actually nominate them. Nominations for the 2020 awards close on 13 September 2019, so nominate a group today – you may well be pleasantly surprised.

Harris Bokhari is founder of the Patchwork Foundation

Arise Sir Simon

Sir Simon Woolley was awarded the Pride of Britain Award at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards in 2013.

Original article published on 14th June 2019

By Harris Bokhari 

Despite the large number of household names and celebrities being awarded honours this year, the one name that underlines how the Establishment has started to recognise the contribution of our diverse communities is the knighthood for Sir Simon Woolley.

As a young person, campaigning for human rights and justice, the name that I came across most often, and which was most often mentioned as a hero of the cause, was Simon’s. I watched him lead the fight for equality in the hostile environment of rampant racist attacks against him and other black communities in Britain. But it is his unflinching dignity and determination to never to give up that continues to inspire generations of ethnic minorities. Through his example we realise that we also can turn hate into a positive force for good.

It was under Simon’s leadership, and with his understanding that “our democracy is only as good as the diverse voices within it”, that he was able to convince BAME communities that positive change could be won through the ballot box.

By founding Operation Black Vote, more than 20 years ago, Simon provided the mentoring and support that led to Baroness Sayeeda Warsi becoming the first Muslim woman to serve in Cabinet, and to Tanmanjeet Singh “Tan” Dhesi being elected as the first turban-wearing Sikh MP. Simon’s impact has been far greater than just increasing the number of BAME members of Parliament though – he showed that true power lies with the ordinary people of this country: his defining achievement.

Sir Simon Woolley was a mentor to Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. (Photo by Paul Rogers – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Whether through hard-hitting campaigning, including having black celebrities whiten their faces to highlight the fact that ‘if you don’t register to vote, you’re taking the colour out of Britain’, or through his soft power and influence in persuading Theresa May as Home Secretary to stop the indiscriminate targeting of young black men through racial profiling via stop and search, Simon’s genius has been in using disruptive campaigning. This has ultimately led to so many from BAME communities playing integral parts of our wider civic life.

International human right activists from Rev Jessie Jackson to Rev Al Sharpton have all rallied around Simon, rightful recognition for our very own leading civil rights campaigner. We cannot underestimate the importance of Simon’s instrumental effort in launching the Government’s Race Disparity Unit Advisory Group, which has done essential work in progressing the agenda of equality for all.

But Simon’s knighthood is also symbolic on a deeper level: it is wonderful to see our Government recognising the contributions of those who have disagreed with them in the past. The honours system is clearly progressing beyond simply awarding those who narrowly toe the Government line.

Simon’s sincerity and commitment to truth is inspirational for us all and is a sign that the system is now reflecting the diversity of modern Britain.

If you are inspired by Sir Simon Woolley, as well as by many of our other diverse community volunteers, help make the honours system more representative and nominate someone today at

Honours for our BAME heroes are well deserved

Original article published on 12 June 2019

This year’s Queen’s birthday honours list had a small drop in the number of people from ethnic minorities included on it. But there was a lot to celebrate. Many Londoners who have campaigned for change were recognised. 

Simon Woolley, for instance, newly made a knight of the realm, founded Operation Black Vote (OBV) more than 20 years ago. Through OBV, he provided a system of mentoring and support that led not only to the first Muslim woman to serve in Cabinet but also the first turban-wearing Sikh MP. His impact has been far greater than just increasing the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic MPs, though — he showed that true power lies with the people, by convincing minorities that positive change could be won through the ballot box. 

Whether through hard-hitting campaigning, or through soft power and influence in campaigning against the indiscriminate targeting of young black men through racial profiling via stop and search, Simon’s genius has been in using disruptive methods. 

His knighthood is also symbolic on a deeper level: it is encouraging to see the Government recognising the contributions of those who have disagreed with them in the past and those who are currently campaigning to create positive change in society, often at odds with the Government itself.

Look no further than the inspirational Nimco Ali being awarded an OBE. One of our country’s leading feminist and social activists, Nimco has used her no-nonsense title of “chief fanny defender” to change the way the Government tackles female genital mutilation , and has kept the pressure on by calling for further action by policymakers — actions that are required to protect our most vulnerable young women in the UK and abroad.

Colleen Amos, a member of the Windrush generation, was awarded an OBE for her campaign to tackle the under-achievement of young men of African-Caribbean heritage. By founding the Amos Bursary, she has transformed the lives of countless young people by helping them secure professional careers and developing them into our country’s future leaders.

We learn to love each other when we break bread together

Original article published on 7th May 2019

Holding the first ever interfaith youth iftar at St Paul’s Cathedral has come to mean so much, in the wake of the tragic attacks on Christian, Muslim and Jewish worshippers across the globe recently. Now, more than ever before, faith and non-faith communities must rally around one another, break bread and engage in social action together to strengthen our communities. The same old statements of support are no longer enough. Real action is now required.

St Paul’s is a fitting location for such an event — and all the more poignant, given the recent fire at Notre-Dame in Paris. Built out of the ashes of London after the Great Fire of 1666 ravaged the city, it is a symbol of hope, renewal and rebirth for all Londoners.

For Muslims, Ramadan can also be seen as a time of renewal: to reaffirm the covenant made with God that entreats us to love for our neighbours what we love for ourselves. These first 10 days of Ramadan are known as the days of mercy. It is a mercy that Muslims are compelled to enact — as the Prophet said: “Have mercy on those on the Earth, so the One in the Heavens may have mercy on you.”

It is easy to think this is a mercy that is absent from our world at the moment. Yet, in the very centre of the storm, we can see the possibility of a different world. Bringing young people of all faiths and none together over food breeds not only common understanding and tolerance, but also, if allowed to flourish, mercy and love between them.

It is apt then that this event is being organised with the City of London Corporation. At once a beacon of progress and innovation as well as tradition and custom, the city holds the memory of where London has come from, but also embraces the future. Young people representing every London borough will be at the iftar later today, hearing from the Bishop of London alongside the Mayor of London, and later joined, at the Guildhall, by the Chief Rabbi.

London’s youth will share their experiences and struggles and present their ideas to our faith and political leaders to tell them how they think we can build a stronger and more cohesive London for all. With a message of hope and mercy, it will be for these young people to forge a way forward for our city and nation — to decide upon and then shape what kind of world they want to live in.

Record number of Muslims recognised by the Queen in New Year’s Honours list 

By Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: A record number of Muslims have been recognised by the Queen in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list including some of the highest numbers from Pakistani heritage in recent times.  

Thirty-five Muslims were awarded an honour in this round, the highest number ever, with 12 percent of those being honoured coming from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. This New Year’s list shows the government’s diversity drive in the honours system has started to work.   

Aamer Naeem, CEO of Penny Appeal, a UK-based humanitarian organisation, was awarded an OBE for his work in the charity sector, and specifically his efforts in developing the British Muslim community. 

His tireless efforts in growing the charity from a £400k a year operation to one that brings in over £20m within five years was rightly recognised by this award in the honours recitation.  

Nasar Mahmood, the chair of the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester, also received an OBE for the many years of work he has dedicated to fostering peaceful community relations. Local interfaith and other community initiatives run by Mahmood led to his successful nomination.  

British Muslim women of Pakistani heritage were also recognised. Jamila Kosser, also from the north of England, was awarded an MBE for the volunteer work she does with the homeless community. 

The recognition of so many from minority backgrounds can be seen as part of an initiative to increase diversity in the UK honours system, typified by the work of Harris Bokhari, an independent member of the honours committee at the Cabinet Office.   

Speaking to The News & Geo, Bokhari said: “The rightful recognition of minority communities in the recent honours list, is no more than they deserve. The government now sets out very clear guidelines, on how to nominate someone for an honour, and it is a simple online process”.