Zehra Haq, right, with service user at the Eden Project

Zehra Haq one of our first grant recipients

Much of Bristol in the 1980s was not a welcoming place for people from different cultures so a family moving here could quickly become very isolated. However, Zehra Haq (pictured above right) turned the tables and has devoted more than three decades to breaking down barriers, helping people of all ages from South Asian backgrounds to live fulfilling lives here.

One of Quartet’s first grants in the 1980s was to the group Zehra set up, the Barton Hill Asian Women’s Group, now known as Dhek Bhal – which means “looking after” – to help with transport so women living very isolated lives in the area’s tower blocks could come to this new self-help group.

“I’m from Singapore where we have a much more open, tolerant attitude to different religions and cultures,” says Zehra, “so I was shocked by the racism and hostility I found here. I wanted to help women – and strengthen the community – by finding a way for women to leave the confines of their flats, receive peer support and gain the language, numeracy and literacy skills they needed to support their children and play a full part in life here in England.

“I knew, however, that they would not be able to go out unless their family thought it was appropriate. I bought a sewing machine so the women could learn this skill and the other skills could follow on.”

"Then we needed transport so families would be reassured that the women had a safe way to get here.  Quartet’s grant for transport was a key piece of the jigsaw and it was vital to our success.”

-Zehra Haq Chief Executive

Together with her husband Ikram, who looks after the finances, from this first venture into community support Zehra has built a comprehensive support system. The variety of  services Dhek Bhal provided included a creche, groups for girls, boys and young mums. Given the demand for their services due to the ageing population, their main focus now is caring for the more vulnerable – older women and men.  They also provide accredited home care that respects cultural differences and gives full training for carers, including language support.

“We have shared our experience and what we’ve learned with people from other isolated communities, such as the Polish and Somali communities, so they don’t have to go through some of the difficulties we’ve had to cope with."

-Zehra Haq Chief Executive

“We also offer work placements for social work students to enable them to have a better understanding and appreciation of the South Asian culture and the challenges they face”, said Zehra.

Over the years Quartet has given more than £50,000 in grants to help start and support Dhek Bhal’s different initiatives and it’s been our privilege to see the seeds that Zehra planted grow so vigorously.

Zehra has changed the lives of thousands of people, transforming their experience from “existing in Bristol” to “thriving in Bristol”.

You can read our other #thirtylives stories here and watch the film we made to celebrate our anniversary on Youtube.