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How one east London volunteer steps up for Christmas

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 December 2019

Emdad Rahman (third from the right) at the Whitechapel Mission for Christmas 2017. Picture: via Emdad Rahman.

Emdad Rahman (third from the right) at the Whitechapel Mission for Christmas 2017. Picture: via Emdad Rahman.

via Emdad Rahman

While Christmas is a busy time for everyone, if not buying gifts then at least wrapping things up for the new year, a year-round volunteer steps up his work to help even more people in need.

Mr Rahman (third from the left) at St Mathias Church delivering dinner last year. Picture: via Emdad Rahman.Mr Rahman (third from the left) at St Mathias Church delivering dinner last year. Picture: via Emdad Rahman.

Brought up in Whitechapel and living in Barking, 43-year-old Emdad Rahman works for charities throughout the year, including the One Third Soup Kitchen and the Care 4 Calais.

"I've been volunteering since I was a teenager," Mr Rahman said. "It's always been something that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

"[That's] whether it was carrying the shopping for my neighbours or doing chores for my parents.

"As I've got older, I've broadened out what I do.

Mr Rahman at Care 4 Calais. Picture: Emdad Rahman.Mr Rahman at Care 4 Calais. Picture: Emdad Rahman.

"I think it's in my nature."

Mr Rahman plans a busy December.

It starts with deliveries of food and clothes to Calais. Mr Rahman and some friends fill up a minivan of donations from people in Poplar. It's driven to Care 4 Calais, the Maria Skobtsova Catholic Care House and the Refugee Community Kitchen to 
help the refugees and migrants there.

Working as a school education officer for Tower Hamlets Council, he's hoping to deliver a rucksack full of books everyday to places like elderly homes and hospital wards, to people who need them. Launched in November, Mr Rahman is calling it the "bookbike".

On Christmas Eve, he helps One Third Soup Kitchen put on a special food service at Stratford Centre, handing out gifts as well as food to the needy.

"It's a very, very festive, party atmosphere - lots of celebration, lots of hugs," Mr Rahman said. "It's a really enjoyable event."

Christmas day itself sees him work at the Whitechapel Mission, giving vulnerable people a free full English with other volunteers, then he's on to Dagenham's Brocklebank Lodge homeless accommodation to deliver food there.

To top off the flurry of Christmas charity, Mr Rahman is planning to take 10 people from Queen Victoria Seaman's Rest in Poplar to the Boxing Day Leyton Orient game for a special match day experience and meal.

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All this started small for the father of three.

One of his first experiences was at Sainsbury's helping the elderly pack their shopping. He was nine, fundraising with classmates for his school, Harry Gosling primary in Shadwell. His work has grown from there.

"I volunteer, it doesn't matter whoever the individual or organisation," said Mr Rahman. "If whatever they're trying to achieve makes a positive difference, I'm in.

"It doesn't matter if it's from a faith or secular background."

That goes for the type of volunteering as well. While helping to relive the pains of homelessness takes up much of Mr Rahman's time, he also carves out space for things like working as a coach at Stepney Football Club.

Meeting people, whether working alongside them or helping them in their time of need, is one of the draws of volunteering for him.

"The experience of making new friends, meeting people, getting a look into their insights and what makes them tick, drives me."

He's been volunteering on Christmas Day itself his entire adult life, he said. Charity work during the holidays isn't new to Mr Rahman. He said he ran the Hackney Half Marathon for the Human Relief Foundation this year whilst fasting for Ramadan (though he said he would've broken his fast if he had to for his safety).

As a Muslim, he doesn't celebrate Christmas, but he still enjoys the changes it brings in the people.

"The spirit of Christmas is something I really enjoy.

"You feel a lot more welcome.

"It's everybody getting together and trying to help the lives of others."

"I feel a lot more warmth from people, whether it's colleagues or strangers. I wish it was Christmas every day just because of that fact.

"It's a great opportunity, the way I look at it, to be really productive as well.

"There's people of diverse backgrounds, faiths, you name it, that come together to achieve the common good."

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