Peterborough youth worker Tahir Masood’s journey didn’t start auspiciously. But the only way was up and the UNISON member has been rewarded with a British Empire Medal for services to youth work.
It was 1980. “Fairly new” in the UK from Pakistan, he had left school without any qualifications. “I lacked confidence and my self-esteem was low,” he explains. He was struggling to find work.
But then he came across Louis Nassim, a community education tutor, who suggested that what he needed was to “get some experience”.
Mr Nassim encouraged Tahir to volunteer at a local youth club. For two years, he worked for three evenings a week, walking about a mile each way, to and from his home to the youth club.
With skills and confidence having developed, he was offered a contract for two sessions a week, with a third to be free.
But in 1988, Tahir’s mother fell ill. He left his job and flew back to Pakistan to take care of her, returning five months later after she had recovered.
“Soon after my return, I was offered a new contract. To this day, I am still on that contract,” he explains.
And it was at this point that Tahir also joined Nalgo, becoming involved with Peterborough City branch. Since then he has held many positions and is currently vice chair and equality officer.
He’s also a currently on the Eastern regional council, the Eastern regional disabled members’ committee and the regional Black members’ committee.
During that time, he says that his most memorable experience has been speaking at national conferences.
Of his job, he says: “working with young people gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I have always viewed my work as my contribution back into society, making real differences. I quickly established trust with young people and they feel confidence in sharing a range of issues and concerns with me.”
And Tahir adds that mutual respect can be seen in the young men calling him “Uncle T,” while he knows them as “my lads”.
“I come across men – former youth club members – almost every week and they remind me about their youth club days and talk about all aspects of their time at the club and thank me for leaving a positive impact on their life.”
He says that there have been no lows in his career and many highs, citing four of the latter that particularly stick in his mind.
Taking young people on an annual week-long residential course at the UK sailing academy on the Isle of Wight comes high on the list, along with taking coach loads of young people to London’s West End to see the show Bombay Dreams.
“I wrote a heritage history book for young people and presented a copy to every member,” Tahir explains. And later, of course: “I felt high when I was contacted by the BBC to interview me after the Queen awarded me the British Empire Medal”.
It’s amazing what UNISON members can achieve!