Creating opportunities for strong foundations and thriving communities
Mohammed Aslam CBE MBE is a memorable and well-respected figure, who was the Chair of Trustees for Halifax Opportunities Trust (HOT) for over a decade. Also the Director of local charity Himmat, he brought with him much experience and knowledge of both the charitable sector and the Park ward community.
We’d like to think that Aslam supported the Trust in building strong Governance and establishing a board that both represented the community and the aspirations of the charity, paving the way for growth and many successes. In turn, the Trust created many opportunities for his role in the community and fuelled his passion for ensuring people have access to the tools that can help them build a better life.
Building a board
At the time Aslam joined the board, Jenny Lynn and her team were establishing the Trust as part of West Central Halifax Partnership’s legacy. Initially set-up as a regeneration charity, focussed on Park ward and surrounding areas in Halifax, the WCHP wanted to created a community-led board that would help the team focus on lived experiences of local residents.
Through Jenny’s work with the Park ward community, she was introduced to Aslam as a key figure and invited him to become a Trustee of the soon-to-be Halifax Opportunities Trust. It took a while to establish a board that reflected the objectives of the charity and it was soon clear that a board that was completely community-led may not be the best route. Aslam remembers:
“We decided to set-up a mixed board that represented all the things the charity aspired to be. Of course, community was a strong theme, but we also wanted experts in the fields of our focus to help us drive the charity forward and build strong foundations.”
Electing a Chair
Aslam’s knowledge and influence was soon realised within the board and when the time came to elect a Chair he beat many of his respective peers. He worked with Jenny to establish and build the board further, with professionals that had a vested interest in regeneration and, ultimately, eradicating poverty.
The Trust’s charitable objectives were developed to reflect this main aim, of which many streams of work soon evolved. Employment and Learning were core areas of focus, continuing from the WCHP programme and supporting further initiatives ensured progress; not only in respect of the charity but of the people who came to the charity for support. Aslam reflects:
“Being Chair I initiated and was involved in many activities and commitments, both locally and regionally. Starting out as a relatively small charity, in the early days we learned a lot from meeting with other organisations and this helped us build the Trust to where it is.”
Recruiting a CEO
At the end of West Central Halifax Partnership’s programme, Jenny Lynn stepped down as CEO. This meant there was opportunity for a new role and to recruit a CEO that would support the Trust’s aspirations and guide the direction it should take.
Aslam was heavily involved in the recruitment process and had a number of criteria in-place to ensure the right person was selected for such an important role. He recalls:
“We wanted someone who was competent but, more importantly, was passionate about positive change. We wanted their experience to enhance the Trust and for them to grow with the charity so they experienced their own professional development.
“I remember recruiting Barbara and we made a great choice. We developed a strong, open and honest relationship that helped us work well together. She had lots of ideas and was able to steer the charity to become one of the largest in the region.”
Innovation in action
While Aslam chaired the board, he supported and celebrated many new projects. Taking lead from a lot of the regeneration work the Trust has delivered since launching, it was evident that this was a strength to further harness. In order to support regeneration, innovation and enterprising expertise are essential; assets the Trust demonstrated in the development of the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre.
In 2006, the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre became part of Halifax Opportunities Trust, which was a continuation of the business support work carried out to help businesses in the community start-up and grow. The Centre provided a dedicated resource for pre-start and start-up businesses, as well as youth enterprise, it was also a National Centre for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technologies. Aslam remembers:
“Developing and opening the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre was a great project to be involved with. It showed our leadership in innovation and we were seen as an enterprise role model. It was great to see some of the individuals the Trust had worked with establishing their business and setting up in the Centre. There was a real sense of progress and it provided a platform for networking.”
Learning the way
Through his work with Himmat, Aslam had a professional and personal passion for learning and ensuring it is available for all. This was evident in his support for the Trust’s delivery of apprenticeships, ESOL classes and further practical skills training HOT delivered.
Aslam believes that every individual reaches their goals in a different way, nothing is linear and sometimes people need guidance on the direction to take. This reflects the Trust’s sentiment, taking a holistic approach to working with people. Whether through learning new skills, gaining qualifications or finding meaningful work, it’s not always a quick or predictable journey and the Trust is here to signpost support. Aslam comments:
“We always made it clear that the Trust is here for the people in the local community; they were not there because of us, we were there because of them. Keeping this front of mind meant that the charity was a voice of the community and its delivery was tailored to individual needs – this is how people thrive.”
Leaving a legacy
Through the time Aslam was Chair at HOT it progressed and grew from operations taking place at its flagship site, Hanson Lane, to taking on a wide range of places that enhanced delivery, such as: The Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, Jubilee Children’s Centre (and subsequent nurseries) and The Outback Community Kitchen and Garden.
This physical and geographic growth was also backed by a growing awareness and understanding of what HOT does. At the time Aslam resigned as Chair in 2015, it was a well-established charity that had built strong partnerships with the local council, funding partners and other charitable organisations. These relationships have further grown and support the Trust in implementing new projects and services. Aslam adds:
“In the time I was Chair we accomplished a lot. I think a lot of this is down to the structure we established at the start, the people in the board and the charity’s purpose. When I stepped down it was functioning as a well-oiled machine and had a highly regarded reputation both among the community and with organisations throughout Calderdale and further.
“I’m proud to see the Trust flourishing and that I had a part in this.”
As we celebrate our 21st Anniversary, we are looking back on the many opportunities we have created for individuals, families, businesses and the community. This means something different to everyone, and Aslam’s involvement and influence over the years has seen opportunities present in even the most challenging to times. To him, ‘creating opportunities’ means:
“Being visible and approachable so people are heard and understood.”
To Aslam, Halifax Opportunities Trust is all about: “Progress. Many things have changed over the years and we should look at these changes as progress, even the things that didn’t go as planned, we learned and grew from them.
A brighter future
Our 21st birthday doesn’t only mean we’re looking back on our impact over the years, it gives us the opportunity to look forward and establish plans for the future. Aslam is positive that the future has lots of great things in store to ensure the 1,700 people we reach each day are able to build a better life.
“Halifax Opportunities Trust has become an established part of the community. The charity works with so many people and I think this experience can help address some of the challenges senior citizens and vulnerable young people face. Whether this is through a completely new service or enhancing something that exists, I see the Trust growing in this way.”
Learn more about our 21st Birthday celebrations
As well as the contributions our connections are kindly providing to tell our story, we have lots of other things planned. Learn more on our official webpage, via the button below.