‘I am trying to do whatever good I can – not just for people in Sheffield but around the world as well’
From a mud hut in Kashmir to the steps of Number 10 Downing Street – Sheffield councillor and the city’s Liberal Democrat group leader Shaffaq Mohammed says his life’s journey is something his grandfather would never have thought possible.
Born in the early 70s in the bitterly-disputed frontier province, he moved to Sheffield at the age of four, meeting his father for the first time as he stepped off the plane.
His first experience of the area was the gritty working-class neighbourhood of Tinsley, a community he says he is still ‘proud’ to live in today.
“It was a very cold and dark place compared to what I was used to,” he said.
“People often make the assumption that people like me would have left this area but being here grounds me.
“My father grandfather and uncles all came to this country to work in the steelworks after the war a bit like the ‘Windrush generation’.
“It was predominantly men who came thinking they would come to England, work their socks off, go back to Pakistan and live a life of comfort.”
But however harsh life in the steelworks could be, it was not half as tough as the life they had left, and many stayed, including Shaffaq’s dad.
A talented mathematician, the young Shaffaq harboured ambitions to broaden his horizons with further study, but after formal school had finished was told he had to work to support the family.
He then became a trainee at the Co-op in Hillsborough and worked his way up to manager, but eventually found his way back to education at night school and then Sheffield University.
After getting a degree in business studies, he became a youth worker, something he still does part-time today.
It was during this time that he came across well-known Sheffield Liberal Democrat Paul Scriven – now a life peer, Lord Scriven of Hunters Bar – who attempted to enlist him in the party.
“I thought at the time everyone like me joins Labour,” he said.
“For my father’s generation it was either that or Enoch Powell so it didn’t give us much of a choice.
“But I was more attracted to liberal politics than Labour at the time so I agreed to join.”
After entering politics with in the early 2000s, he was elected councillor for Ecclesall in 2004 and rose to be a cabinet member during the Liberal Democrat administration between 2008 and 2011.
The newly-elected councillor was immediately thrown in at the deep end, however, after the Kashmiri earthquake of 2005, in which tens of thousands of people died.
He travelled to the devastated region shortly after disaster struck, and came back ‘so humbled’ by the experience, he says.
Many in Sheffield rallied to the aid of the Kashmir at that time, none more so than the large Pakistani Muslim community in the city, many of whom had family ties to the area.
Up to £70,000 was raised for the relief effort in just one week, with women reportedly selling jewellery so they could send more money to those in need.
The huge aid operation continued long after the dust had settled and even gave birth to a new school in regional capital Muzaffarabad, fittingly titled Sheffield High School.
Shaffaq has maintained his association with the land of his birth too, and he has become a strong link between two countries that have a shared history but are divided by so much else.
He says that, living in Sheffield for as long as he has, the idea of different cultures mixing with each other has become second nature to him.
And he has taken this idea back to Pakistan with him by working with marginalised Christian communities in the predominantly Muslim country.
“I am fortunate to have this role and I want to use the platform to make things better and change lives,” he says.
“These jobs are not for life so I am going to try to do whatever good I can – not just for people in this city but around the world as well.”