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Woman sitting with coffee

Nighat Khan

Local people used to be a blur to Nighat Khan, as she rushed past them each day on her way to and from work as a City banker.

These days, she has her fellow Clapham Park residents in sharp focus. She’s swapped the City for the community, where she works with Metropolitan to engage and empower some of its toughest-to-reach members.

Nighat had made a beeline for banking after her A-levels. The likes of Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank put her through her professional exams and, by 2013, she was an experienced, well-rewarded investment analyst in the Square Mile. The career was sorted, it seemed.

But the mother of two struggled with the long-hours culture that was at odds with family life. She vividly remembers her young daughter’s daily ritual: “She’d wait outside the bathroom door while I got ready for work, begging me not to go.”

There was also a nagging feeling that there was something else she should be doing. So when redundancies were offered, Nighat raised her hand.

One of the first things she did was take her daughter to a family learning session at the local nursery. “The joy I saw in my daughter’s eyes when we did activities together was priceless,” she says. “I thought the idea of parent and child learning was a great one.”

Nighat went on to complete her Childcare Level 3 qualification, do various educational training courses, volunteer at a local primary school and take a part-time job in a local nursery. She also organised coffee mornings for small groups of local mums and their children. Metropolitan gave them space in its Clapham Park community space, The Pop-up Shop (now known as Met Hub), during school holidays.

“We did arts and crafts activities,” says Nighat. “It was free and kids were welcome – I didn’t want anything to stop the women coming – but mothers had to stay with their children and make things together. You could see their happiness as they had fun, discovered new skills and networked with other women.”

Some needed more coaxing than others. Nighat had spotted cases of isolation, where women only came out to take the kids to and from school. Some didn’t speak English, a few had anxiety issues. “You have to build trust,” she reasons. “Sometimes it took several conversations and phone calls to get them along.”

The mums came from many different countries – Eritrea, Somalia, Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco and Brazil among them. Many were unemployed, while some worked in unskilled jobs, despite being trained nurses, cooks and tailors.  Why? “They felt disconnected, lacked confidence and needed flexibility,” says Nighat. “I wanted to do more for them.”

That meant taking her ideas to the next level and making family engagement and family learning her career. Metropolitan helped by providing advice and support.

Kelly Thomas, then a Metropolitan employment officer at Clapham Park and now its Neighbourhood Investment lead, suggested she start her own business.

“People like Kelly encouraged me,” says Nighat.

She registered her community interest company – New Vision for Women – in 2016, which enabled her to apply for funding and paid contracts.

The company soon secured a grant to continue the creative coffee mornings with Clapham Park, while Nighat designed 12 programmes to benefit and enhance the lives of ordinary women in the community. Some were created with Kelly, specifically for Metropolitan residents.

She’s successfully piloted the free programmes around themes like positive parenting and financial empowerment. The eight-week Financial Confidence for Women course has already been delivered in full. Nighat is pleased to have changed some mindsets.

“It doesn’t matter if the women are on benefits or have little money; they are starting to believe they can make positive changes to their lives,” she says. “Four of the women on the course now want to start their own businesses.”

Meanwhile, Nighat’s own ideas keep coming. She organised an International Women’s Day event at Clapham Park in March, inviting local women to get together for pampering, motivation and good food. She’s keen to pass on the benefits of mindfulness, and is plotting some international cooking sessions. “We’ll cook together, eat together and celebrate each other’s cultures,” she explains.

But does she have any regrets about leaving the City? “The salary loss left a hole, but in its place I have fulfilment, enjoyment and new friends,” she reflects. “There’s nothing better than seeing people’s courage, confidence and self-belief return.”