By the early eighties Reading Pakistani Community was one of the largest ethnic minority communities in Reading. There had been a huge demand for a community centre and a meeting place for the Pakistani Community. This was in line with other communities enjoying similar facilities such as the Central Club given to the West Indian Community. At this time the Berkshire County Council resolved to make their old Teachers Centre in Norris Road into Asian Community Centre. However due to divisions within our Pakistani Community and lack of organization the Norris Road facility went to the Indian Community, which was led by the Indian Workers Association, who had been better organised. This happened even though the Pakistani Community was the largest ethnic minority of the time.
Soon after senior members including likes of Zulfikhar Ali Shah, Chaudhry Bashir, Mr Jaffri, Sufi Khan, Raja Majeed, Mr Abdulla, Altaf Khan, Raja Banaras and later on Ejaz Elahi made efforts to organize the community. Elections were held and even with divisions an organization was borne to strengthen the community as the Pakistani Community Welfare Association. Help was then sought from Reading Borough Council and with some lobbying of the local political parties and the serving MP’s. The Pakistani Community were to realize their aspirations some time later in the 90’s. This support to the Pakistani Community also paid off for the Labour Party. In the subsequent local elections the Labour group enjoyed the full support of the Pakistani Community and this support helped them to increase their majority in the Reading Borough Council elections. Martin Salter supported widely by the Pakistani Community went on to be a future MP for 3 terms.
With the increased Labour Majority Council funding for community groups increased and RBC also appointed a Community Development officer. With the aim to work with the town’s different ethnic minority community groups including the Reading Pakistani Community Welfare Association. This led to a bid being made for a facility owned by The Kings Road College the Gladstone Club annex site. However the building was sold commercially to the Sardar Palace Restaurant. In the meantime the Pakistani Community was given shared use of the new RBC owned Arts Centre at 21, South Street – the site of the former dole office. The PCA/PWA was based here until 1993 with a small upstairs office and joint use of the main hall. It was not an ideal situation but it was a start.
Then in late eighties an opportunity arose when the St. Bartholomew’s Church Hall in London Road came up for sale. This led to Reading Borough Council buying the lease of the building for community use. The Council refurbished the building and renamed as Park Hall. It was already used by the Pakistani community for Eid Prayers, Koran classes and other events. However, there were other existing groups who had been using the hall for many years who needed to be looked after. Gradually these groups declined and the pressure from the Pakistani Community increased for a place of their own.
Following the election of Dr Abdul Razak as Chair negotiations were successfully completed to move the PCC from South Street into Park Hall on the understanding that they would control the premises and allow bookings from other users. RBC also provided paid admin and part time Youth Workers for PCC and increasing the grants to over £20,000. Dr Razak also with the support of Councillor Christine Borgars and Ann Westgarth put in a successful bid for funding to extend the Centre. In 1999 the building was renovated and extended to provide new toilets, offices and a larger hall and kitchen. By now it was a thriving community centre with offering meeting place for youth the elderly and in particular women’s groups, lunch clubs and whole host of activities were run from PCC. Further funding was also made to provide computers internet access and computer course were run by WEA and such.
After Dr Razak’s tenure Arif Kayani was elected Chair in 2000 and 2003, he kept the existing activities going and left with a deficit of between £6000 to 10000, the figure is disputed and not verified. In 2006 Mohammed Saleem promised just like previous Chairs at the behest of the Labour Party promised to resolve Green Road Land for Mosque for Alexandra Road and improve the PCC. The existing activities were maintained but Green Road Mosque became a sorry story. He left with £12,500 deficit plus £4700 election costs. Leaving the PCC with £16,500 outstanding bills whilst claiming PCC was in healthy financial state at the AGM.
This year on 7th July the Pakistani community elected Team Change under the leadership of Manzoor Hussain who promised less politics and more services. Most of the elected members are second and third generations of Pakistani descent, these are exciting times for PCC with a transitional power shift by electing a young and vibrant team.