Black History Month blog – Farzana Khanum

The theme for this year’s Black History Month in the UK is ‘Saluting Our Sisters’, celebrating the achievements of Black women.

Black History Month is a fantastic time to champion diversity and shine a spotlight on inclusion, both inside and outside the workplace, whilst also taking time to reflect on the current challenges we face as a society. Yes, these conversations are difficult, but it’s only by discussing these issues that we can influence change.

More diversity in the workplace has been shown to improve employee morale, and lead to more creative solutions and innovation.

I feel honoured to be asked as a woman of colour to share a bit about myself and my career journey.

My name is Farzana Khanum, many know me as Faz, I am from Scunthorpe and I am a Muslim woman of Kashmir background, with family originating from Kashmiri descent.

When I left college, I studied BA Hons in Human Resources and Business Management at Middlesex University, but my career path took a turn as my passion was to contribute in making a difference and supporting people from the community, to give them a better start in life. This is reflected throughout my work history and voluntary commitments over the last twenty years.

In 2018, I achieved my MA in Public Health Management and Leadership and went on to complete Level 5 Certificate in Principles of Commissioning for Wellbeing. I have completed a number of leadership, project management, equality and diversity, health and wellbeing, and suicide prevention training over the years.

I began my career applying for roles that were looking for someone who had a knowledge of faith groups, religion, BAME background and these mainly being short-term funding posts, mainly working in projects that addressed Health inequalities which I enjoyed, and it took a number of years for me to break into other roles, with wider agendas.

In the last year or so I have been working as a Public Health Manager, leading on the Mental Health & Wellbeing and Suicide Prevention agendas. Prior to this, I was working as Public Health Manger for over 2 years leading on substance misuse and addictions. I have worked on a number of portfolios in the Public Health Team including Long Term Condition agenda, leading on the commissioning of the Health Check programme, and dementia and stroke. I have played an instrumental role along with my Public Health colleagues to support to the COVID-19 outbreak management and prevention work within business settings in North Lincolnshire, assisting with reducing transmission in workplace settings, providing support and advice to businesses to limit and reduce transmission.

Prior to 2021, I had worked as a Diversity Panel Member for the Office of Police and Crime Commission. Previous to that, the role was managed by Criminal Justice Service Board for over 15 years. As a panel member, I played a key role within the Criminal Justice Service as an independent member, providing scrutiny and being a critical friend to the work undertaken by the CJS. Examples of this involved working with different prisons, reviewing discrimination incident forms, hate crime reporting, reviewing policies, undertaking mystery shopper exercise within Humberside Police, observing training sessions and providing feedback, delivering diversity training, honoured based and forced marriage training, training hundreds of Hull city of culture volunteers in diversity training, advising on policies and guidance making sure they fully reflect the communities they serve.

In 2012, I worked as an Equality & Diversity Officer at Ongo which involved driving the equality agenda in order for the organisation to successfully achieve their Investors in Diversity Award.

I had worked in Neighbourhood Management as a Communication Officer and Performance & Service Delivery Manager for over ten years. This role gave me the opportunity to work directly pockets of community where there were deprivation and worked towards improving the quality of life for people in a deprived neighbourhood of North Lincolnshire. This was done by engaging residents in decisions that affect them and working with public service providers so that they provide more appropriate and better services to residents.

Back in 2002, I worked as Race Relations Adviser at South Humber Racial Equality Council (SHREC). My work at SHREC involved me in some fascinating and challenging work. This included identifying and combating institutional racism, working with local communities to promote community cohesion throughout North Lincolnshire, and assisting clients in a wide range of matters.

During the time at SHREC I worked closely with Kurdish community. Many Kurdish community people arrived from the disputed areas of Kurdish which caused uncertainty and hostility from the existing BAME community. I played an instrumental in engaging with this community group to ensure their voice was heard, and to work together with other established communities to eliminate some of the tensions and misunderstanding that had arisen.

There were a number of success stories from my involvement with this particular community and many of the Kurdish members went on to become community representatives and involved in various stakeholder meetings.

I have many years experience of working with partnerships drawn from organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors. This is an area that I also have direct experience of working in the criminal justice sector.

It was whilst I was working at SHREC I applied to be a magistrate at 31 years of age, back in 2006 I was the youngest magistrate in the Humber region. I was one of the few diverse BME members of the bench, but confident that I had the necessary qualities to be able to dispense justice and undertake my judiciary duties. At the time, I felt that I had a good understanding of the influences and the pressures in today’s society, and my community activities give me first-hand experience of the issues and fears of older and vulnerable people and those who feel marginalised or excluded. 

I enjoyed being a magistrate and found it rewarding to be part of a judiciary system being part of delivering judiciary duties where I uphold the law by being fair, impartial and unbiased, and considering each offender’s individual circumstances and how that influences their offending behaviour. Whilst we are there and have to punish, it’s also all about rehabilitation as well. It’s a way of doing something that actually benefits people, it’s a way of giving back to the community. It can be distressing, difficult at times but also extremely rewarding as you also get help people rehabilitate themselves.

My passion for sports

Many years ago, I was a chair of BME Sports. This was set up to overcome barriers to sport, and looked to improve and promote opportunities for BME individuals and communities in sport at every level. Over number of years, I have worked as a volunteer with my faith groups, encouraging and coordinating a number of initiatives which encouraged women from the BAME community to get involved with sports. I have also been a jog leader and set up weekly sessions for women with the aim of increasing participation and building confidence.

I am a woman of colour who has a passion for sports. These have come with challenges, especially being a Muslim woman, but I have embraced those challenges and have tried to overcome them over the years. Islam promotes good health and fitness for both men and women. However, there are guidelines within which sports can be practiced.

I remember when I first participated in running, I was always quite nervous about what the community may think and used to run early hours of the morning hoping that no one saw me. I entered many races without even telling anyone – even participating in a half marathons and marathons! I would come back home with a medal and my family would ask ‘Have you been for a run?’ My family weren’t against me exercising, but they didn’t quite understand what I enjoyed from running, especially having brothers who just love football.

I didn’t really share my achievements with my community, mainly as there was no one from the Muslim faith who was running or part of the running club that I had joined at that time. The running club was very welcoming, but not diverse at all when I joined. Only myself and another Asian girl were a member, and I believe there is a still underrepresented now. The low participation among Muslim women means there is a lack of Muslim female role models, making it difficult for young Muslim women to engage in sport.

It took me a long while to talk about my sporting activities to my community because I was nervous what they may think. People were very surprised and the majority of comments from people were asking me if I could help get them fit, but they also wanted to run somewhere that they would not been seen by anyone from the community.

Running is my happy place and what helps me with my mental wellbeing, my passion for running has seen me take part in over 20 marathons over the years including running marathons abroad such as Barcelona, Lisbon, Iceland and Loch Ness, as well as locally in Manchester, York and Hull.

I have taken part in numerous half marathons and also have completed two ultra marathons which both consisted of running 50 miles Liverpool to Manchester.

I throw myself and sign-up to challenges – easily persuaded by my running buddies! I have taken part in a number of cycling rides which have included cycling 64 miles and 100 miles. The biggest challenge I have completed was the coast-to-coast cycle ride which was 158 miles in one day.

I also took part in a 3-day charity bike ride across Moldova and Romania, covering over 120 miles to raise money for the Christian charity Link to Hope. I carried out a wing walk to raise money for Samaritans.

One of my biggest fears is water and over 3 years ago I learnt how to swim. In my younger years, I didn’t take up swimming due to mainly around dress code, now you are able to buy burkinis and modest swimwear. I would like to take part in a triathlon, but I am yet to conquer open water swimming.

Recently, I have taken up the challenge of CrossFit which has been a shock to my system. It is a combination of gymnastic and strength work which has taken me out of my comfort zone. I took up the sport as I noticed my body going through change as of my age and the importance of weight training for as a woman of older age.

Over the years, I have tried to encourage the BAME ladies from the community to take up sports. Many do ask me to help them get fit and look to me for motivation.

Inclusion is key, together we must work to ensure everyone feels welcome, and their contributions are celebrated – regardless of their backgrounds.