The Honorary Freedom of Redbridge has been awarded to five residents whose tireless and selfless work has helped numerous vulnerable people in the borough and beyond.
Freedom of the Borough is the highest accolade that the council can bestow to community heroes who make an invaluable contribution to our borough.
The five residents were nominated by the Council Civic Panel because of their significant and long-term commitment to the borough.
The new Mayor of Redbridge, Cllr Roy Emmett, said:
“The last year has been so difficult for so many people, and yet community spirit and the kindness of strangers has shone through. This has highlighted how many amazing people we have in Redbridge.
“In recognition of this, we have resurrected our Freedom of the Borough accolade, and intend to make it a permanent feature to showcase the strength of our communities and thank outstanding individuals for their outstanding work and commitment to helping others.”
A scroll will be given to each of our new recipients by the Leader of Redbridge Council, Cllr Jas Athwal, and the Mayor of Redbridge, at an official ceremony when Covid rules allow. In the meantime, those honoured have been sent a digital version of their scroll along with a thank you message from Redbridge Council.
Avril Mills BEM, from Epping
Avril Mills, aged 62, set up Hainault-based charity ‘The Dream Factory’ in 2008 in memory of her son, Oliver, who died from leukaemia aged nine.
While Oliver was ill Avril helped to grant a dream for a little boy who wanted to visit a football club. That day, Oliver said, “Mum, when I grow up, I want to grant dreams just like you”. Sadly, Oliver never got that chance but the premise for The Dream Factory was founded. Avril was able to turn her tragic loss into a generous endeavour for other children.
Avril was brought up in the Clayhall area of Redbridge, but now lives in Epping. She was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2014 for her services to children and young adults.
Redbridge Mayor Cllr Roy Emmett said: “Since 2008, Avril has been instrumental in fulfilling wishes and dreams for 505 young people aged between three and 25 years with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions and or severe disabilities in his memory. It is humbling that despite her tragic personal loss, Avril has helped so many other people.”
Mr Fauja Singh, BEM, from Ilford
Known as the Turbaned Tornado (which is also the title of his biography) Fauja Singh, BEM, is 111 years-old. He was born 1 April 1911 in Punjab, India, emigrating to England in the 1990s.
Living in Ilford, Fauja is a centenarian marathon runner. However, he only started seriously training and running aged 89, here in Redbridge. The 2000 London Marathon was his first race.
His current personal best time is for the 2003 London Marathon at 6 hours 2 minutes. His marathon record at age 92, for the age 90-plus group, is 5 hours 40 minutes in the 2003 Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Fauja had said that he would retire from competitive running after taking part in the Hong Kong Marathon in 2013, just five weeks shy of his 102nd birthday, but he continues to run for pleasure, health, and charity.
Fauja was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to sport and charity.
Speaking about marathon running, Fauja said: “The first 20 miles are not difficult. As for last six miles, I run while talking to God.”
Redbridge Mayor Cllr Roy Emmett said: “He is a regular competitor at Redbridge Mayor’s Appeal and a valued member of the local community whose approach to life inspires others and shows that age really is no barrier.”
Ruth Salahi, from Ilford
Ruth Salahi, aged 70, was Chairman of the Woodford Bridge-based ‘Hopes and Dreams’ charity which granted wishes to terminally and critically ill children. She and her team of volunteers made dreams come true for hundreds of young people.
She set up the charity 28 years ago to help make life a bit happier for ill children and their families. Over the years, the charity has partnered with Redbridge Mayor Appeals to hold fundraising events.
The charity was run entirely by volunteers and every penny raised went towards turning dreams into reality for chronically, seriously, or terminally ill children.
Ruth retired three years ago from the charity, which eventually ceased operating this year. The leftover charity money was donated to the Haven House Children’s Hospice in Redbridge.
Redbridge Mayor Cllr Roy Emmett said: “Whether it’s a trip to Disneyworld, a ride in a helicopter or to meet a favourite footballer, Ruth did all she could to make the dreams of sick children come true.
“Ruth ran the charity entirely as a volunteer project, giving so much of her own time and money to this great cause alongside her team of volunteers.”
Ghazanfar Ali, from Seven Kings
Chairman of the Ilford Muslim Centre, Ghazanfar Ali, aged 77, has lived in Redbridge for more than 50 years after arriving in 1968 from Pakistan. He has since dedicated huge amounts of time, effort, and care to the local community.
Ghazanfar has taken a leading role in forging close relationships across faiths and combatting extremism, contributing to the development of the ‘Tackling Extremism Together Strategy’ and in 1991 was elected the first chairman of the Ilford Islamic Centre (IIC).
He was elected the first Muslim chairperson of the Redbridge Racial Equality Council in the 1990s. He works with many other Redbridge community organisations including the Haven House Children’s Hospice in Woodford Green and the St Francis Hospice in Romford.
Ghazanfar’s service to the community throughout the pandemic have been monumental and, despite the tragedies, his immense faith in God and the need to serve humanity for the good at any cost ensures that you’ll always find Ghazanfar with a smile on his face and delighted to talk about his life as a Redbridge resident.
Redbridge Mayor Cllr Roy Emmett said: “Ghazanfar always encourages the residents of Redbridge to become involved in community events and is the glue that brings and holds people together whatever their background, whatever their differences.”
Isaac Harvey, from Ilford
Isaac Harvey is an award-winning vlogger and producer of short travel and adventure films, an inspirational poet, and charity fund raiser. He really is a power-force for the good of Redbridge.
He has a passion for helping young people and is involved in supporting Barnardo’s and the Redbridge-based charity, The Dream Factory.
A strong advocate for equality issues, he has promoted various initiatives for people with disabilities, including a campaign to learn to swim.
All of this would be sufficiently remarkable for someone of just 25 years old. However, Isaac was born with a form of limb hypoplasia syndrome which means he has no arms and a weak pelvis.
Isaac has used his creative mind and his feet to achieve his varied accomplishments. He has skydived and taken part in wheelchair slalom. He is the President of Wheels and Wheelchairs – a group of London-based skaters, roller bladders and wheelchair users
Isaac carried the Olympic Torch in 2012, as a pupil of Seven Kings High School and in 2018 was crowned winner of the Young Citizen of the Year Award at the Redbridge Mayor’s Community Awards.
Redbridge Mayor Cllr Roy Emmett said: “Isaac is an inspirational advocate for what people can achieve with hard work, determination, and self-belief. He is an amazing role model for everyone but, in particular, young people.”