At Taylor Road Primary School this evening for a dinner in honour of Hashim Duale. Or at least, that's what it said on the invitation ...
Hashim (in the centre of the photo above) has worked selflessly and tirelessly on behalf of the Somalian community in Leicester (and beyond) for more than a decade. He was a member of Leicester Council of Faiths when I took up my post in 2007 (although he resigned a couple of years later). He was awarded the MBE earlier this year for his services to the cause of community cohesion. You can hear Hashim speak about his early life experiences on BBC Radio Leicester's Leicester Voices archive (this is from 2003 but is still definitely worth listening to). This evening's event has been promoted as Hashim's "leaving do", but there turns out to be more to it than that ...
There's a generous spread of Somalian food. I was at first concerned that there may not be that much on offer for vegetarians, but I end up with a fuller belly than I've had in weeks. I'm even tempted back for seconds, a practice I'm conscientiously trying to give up.
After the food and the chance to mingle for a while, we take our seats in the school's main hall. We're formally welcomed by Jamal Ibar, Chair of Horn Concern, a Leicester-based charity which is hosting this occasion. This is where we realise that there's more to this evening's gathering than meets the eye. Jamal announces that we're actually attending the presentation of the Horn Concern Achievement Awards for 2012: celebrating outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the life of the Somalian community in Leicester. This has been kept under wraps so as to ensure it remains a surprise to at least two of the recipients of the three awards being presented here.
The first award goes to Chief Supt Rob Nixon, Leicestershire Constabulary BCU City Centre Commander. Rob has helped maintain close relations between Leicestershire Police and the Somalian community, overcoming barriers of culture, language, race and religion. The award is made with particular reference to his role in establishing and maintaining confidence and security on St Matthew's estate at the time of the most recent visit by the English Defence League in February this year. He's plainly taken aback at the presentation and emphasises how this is an award for his whole team. It's a good opening that the first of these awards goes to someone who is not himself a member of the Somalian community, but has worked with it and for it in such a beneficial way.
The second award goes to Idil Abdi Osman, a print and broadcast journalist who has worked for the BBC World Service and for Voice of America. When she gets up on stage to accept the award, she says it's the first time in her life that she's been lost for words!
It comes as no surprise when the third and final award is made to Hashim Duale. The presentation is followed by various people offering their own praise to the main man this evening. Many of them can barely finish their paeans without choking back tears, including (more than once) Hashim himself.
Hashim also receives the Chief Superintendent's Commendation, which has been given to only five members of the public in almost three years. This is presented on stage by Rob Nixon (who is clearly more at home giving awards than receiving them!)
There's also a brief presentation to Hashim from the Federation of Muslim Organisations.
At the end of the evening, one question remains: if this is Hashim's leaving do, where's he actually going? I and many others ask him this but he remains tight-lipped. Who can blame him though? The man deserves a break.