Reaching out

Aslam Hansa, Noor Ul Islam operations manager
Aslam Hansa, Noor Ul Islam operations manager

James Cracknell learns more about the new community centre being built by Waltham Forest’s largest charity

Anyone who has travelled up Leyton High Road towards Bakers Arms lately will likely have noticed the imposing building under construction opposite Colchester Road.

This is the new four-storey home of Waltham Forest Noor Ul Islam, which – with around 100 staff – is the largest charity in the borough. Despite this it remains unfamiliar to many local people, because, as the name implies, the charity primarily serves the Muslim community. Noor Ul Islam’s huge new £12million hub, however, is part of an effort to serve the whole of Waltham Forest.

Before the government lockdown came into force, I was invited to meet operations manager Aslam Hansa. He told me about the history of Waltham Forest Noor Ul Islam and its new vision for expanding its community work to reach more local people.

“Initially we opened in 1990 as a prayer space, but we realised we should be serving the whole community,” Aslam explained. “We run a nursery and classes and events, such as ESL [English as a Second Language] courses, but we found demand was increasing and the buildings we were using were old – the roof was always leaking.

“We realised we needed our own purpose-built facilities. It took four or five years to approve the plans and we started building in 2015, so it has taken a long time. We raised £7m from the local community. It is a really good success story. The fact that this has been financed by the local community, it means they feel invested in it and they can’t wait to move in.”

The building will also serve as a mosque but Aslam says it has been purposely designed to be inclusive. A traditional Islamic-style of architecture can be found at the rear, while the main entrance at the front has a far more modernist look.

“Many of the facilities will be available for everyone – only a quarter of the space is reserved for prayers. This will be a centre for the whole community. Our priority is health, welfare and education.

“If someone comes up with a suggestion for using the facilities we will discuss it with them. The hall downstairs could be used for sport. There will be a youth club. We know the younger generation need spaces to go to.”

Waltham Forest Noor Ul Islam’s new community hub is due to open to the public in 2021.

For more information about Waltham Forest Noor Ul Islam:
Visit noorulislam.org.uk