How did PL84U AL-SUFFA start?
Many religions have charity at their core and giving to charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. As a family, we saw that there seemed to be a gap in provision on Sundays, with people in need not necessarily having a place to go on the day of the week that a lot of people traditionally spend with family over a meal, so we decided try and address that. In 2013, we secured six months’ start-up funding from ‘Near Neighbours’ (the Church Urban Fund) and the persuaded Muslim Aid, who were looking for a UK project, to continue funding us. We also get a lot of support from our local mosque, Faizan-e-Islam. All the family helps out, alongside our amazing team of volunteers, and my husband Farooq is a great support to me. We have a family joke – “Mum’s the chair – but Dad’s the stool!”
We offer a bi-monthly service – the first Sunday of the month and the third Sunday of the month at the Scout Hut on Wood Street. We open around 9:30-10am and close at 3:30pm. We’ve developed in stages – initially we were just able to offer a hot meal, then our service expanded to include a food and clothing bank as we get donations of tinned food and clothing from our very generous local community. We also get food kindly donated from Leyton and Leytonstone Tescos – thanks to Jason and Stacey! – and Fairshare at Highams Park. We progressed to also offering ‘pampering’ sessions – a volunteer made contact with the Haircuts4Homeless charity (www.haircuts4homeless.com) who provide haircuts and manicures. The next service I’d like to be able to offer would be counselling sessions provided by professional volunteers, as the need is great. We’re also offering companionship and guests say it’s a safe and friendly environment and they feel like part of a family when they’re with us. We have lots of activities for them – board games, chess, makeshift table tennis – or they can just chat or have a nap.
Explaining the name:
PL84U is simply ‘Plate For You’ in acronyms, because that is exactly what we are providing for our guests. A plate of hot, wholesome food (and they are guests to us, not ‘service users’). We are open to everyone in need in the borough, regardless of race, religion, colour, gender etc. The ‘AL-SUFFA’ part of the name acknowledges our family’s identity as Muslims. It means ‘verandah’ in Arabic and echoes hospitality, food and lodgings which the Prophet Mohammed – peace be upon him – provided for people who came to study under Him.
Named ‘Muslim Woman of the Year’ in 2014 by Waltham Forest Council of Mosques. Saira Mir works tirelessly in our community. And now her charity, PL84U AL-SUFFA, has won an international award for interfaith work with our borough’s vulnerable and homeless. Saira talks to Silvana Gambini about her work. Photograph by Sanah Begum.
My heritage is Pakistani but my grandparents moved to East Africa; I was the second generation in the family to be born there. In 1968, we moved to the UK and finally settled in Bradford (my Yorkshire
accent still comes through!). My husband’s family also came to the UK in 1968, settling in East London, and I moved to Walthamstow when we got married in 1985 – firstly in Leyton and then here.