Food bank founder, Leyton Orient FC, and Waltham Forest CEO awarded ‘Freedom of the Borough’

The Freedom of the Borough is the highest honour that the council can award to an individual or organisation

Saira Begum Mir BEM given the ‘Freedom of the Borough’ by mayor Roy Berg. Credit: Waltham Forest Council

Leyton Orient FC, food bank founder Saira Begum Mir BEM, BCAs and departing Waltham Forest Council chief executive Martin Esom were all awarded the Freedom of Waltham Forest last night.

Begum Mir, who set up the food bank PL84U AL-SUFFA, based at the Epicentre, West Street in Leytonstone, has helped feed hundreds of people every week since its launch ten years ago. These include refugees from Afghanistan. Begum Mir has already received a British Empire medal for her efforts in helping people across the borough with food, clothes, haircuts, toiletries, and providing general support.

Begum Mir has also provided cooking sessions for women from migrant backgrounds and volunteering roles for those seeking to prepare for work in the UK.

Speaking at Waltham Forest Town Hall, Begum Mir said: “I am truly honoured and blessed to be the recipient of this prestigious award, setting up PL84U AL-SUFFA allows us to serve our diverse community through difficult times, and continues to fulfil our duty as Muslims.

“This recognition is for my family for being my backbone, for our dedicated team of volunteers who work extremely hard each day, and the community for their ongoing support.

“Our thanks and appreciation to the council for their support and for recognising PL84U AL-SUFFA’s vital role in the community.”

Council leader Grace Williams said: “Saira is an absolute inspiration and what PL84U AL-SUFFA has achieved in helping so many of our residents in so many different ways is simply outstanding.

“We are honoured as a council to be able to award her the Freedom of the Borough and I know I speak on behalf of everyone at Waltham Forest when I say that Saira is an amazing woman whose dedication and selfless work for our communities deserves the highest recognition.”

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Leyton Orient community liasion officer Robbin Minchin accepting the award from Mayor Roy Berg Credit: Waltham Forest Council

Accepting the honour on behalf of Leyton Orient FC, the club’s Community Liaison officer Robbie Minchin brought along the League Two trophy to show to councillors.

He said: “Following the club’s promotion back to the Football League in 2019, the club has gone from strength to strength on and off the pitch, which ended the 2022/2023 season being crowned champions of Sky Bet Football League Two. Since our promotion back to the Football League our focus has been on growing our relationship with the local community, made possible by the ongoing support from Waltham Forest Council.”

Williams said: “Leyton Orient FC is an institution in our borough and we wanted to recognise their amazing season and the pleasure they give to so many of our residents by awarding them the freedom of the borough.”

Outgoing chief executive Esom was also honoured with the Freedom of the Borough. He is retiring after 13 years in the job, making him the longest-serving chief executive of any London borough. Esom was congratulated in speeches by deputy leader and councillor Clyde Loakes, and deputy leader of the Waltham Forest Conservatives councillor Azfal Akram. 

Accepting the honour, Esom said: “When I joined WF 16 years ago it was a very different place, I’ve worked with five different administrations under four leaders…I am a public servant with public service at the core. I’ve never regarded it as a job, more as a vocation. It’s given me the opportunity to work with people, transform places and people’s lives. 

“Waltham Forest is a vibrant creative community that lives together in harmony. It’s been an absolute blast and honour, thank you.”

Note: Updated to include quote from Martin Esom

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