Case Study:
Firvale Community Hub

Standing up for Community


The Full Story.

Gulnaz Hussain grew up in Firvale.

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Gulnaz Hussain grew up in Firvale.

“From a young child, lots of people came to our house with lots of issues. The advocacy support not available to them was taken up by friends and family,” Gulnaz said.

“As economic migrants, my dad and other exsteelworkers said we should set up something that helps our communities.”

What began in a front room in the 1960s, evolved in 2013 into the Pakistani Advice and Community Association. In 2017, to reflect the increasing cultural diversity, it was renamed to the Firvale Community Hub.

Gulnaz went on to university to study Applied Social Sciences and began a career in community development work, but always volunteered at the hub, and helped its grant applications.

Key Fund was an early investor.

“I helped get their first grant from Key Fund, to secure their first manager. That was a long time ago!” Gulnaz said.

Firvale is located amongst the 3% most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.

Keeping her eye on the hub, Gulnaz realised it needed someone with vision to steer it through the challenges on its doorstep; she moved to a paid role in 2003. As CEO, she turned it around.

“We’ve gone from strength to strength,” she said. “I wanted good things in the area. A lot of the community is very diverse, and there was a big struggle around resources and barriers because of misunderstandings around cultures.”

Moving into a renovated former hotel, she helped create a community centre.

It’s been so amazing for the community to have this building

“We’re grassroots and on the frontline, we put locals first. The social impact is from a range of different services led by demand.”

The team works with migrants from Eastern Europe and Muslim communities, promoting community cohesion, and is a founding member of the Sheffield Roma Network.

The hub provides unemployment support, education and training, health and well-being services, and community advocacy.

More than a thousand people a year pass through its doors. “In short,” Gulnaz said, “we’re problem busters”.

Operating in a rented building though was restricting their expansion.

“Under a landlord, we had our hands tied and couldn’t develop in a way we wanted to. So, the board said let’s sit down with Key Fund, and we worked up a proposal.”

Key Fund gave a £175,000 loan and £75,000 grant for the majority of the building purchase costs in 2019. The hub now has a sustainable income stream, renting out offices in its building to the council. It’s trading income stands at around £40k per year, with an annual turnover of £600k.

“It’s been so amazing for the community to have this building. We’ve been able to direct our own projects and have ownership of them. It’s been inspirational, it’s been positive. We can make decisions and continue to expand our services, which are so needed – we’re very busy; there are queues outside.”

Language barriers and poor and cramped housing around transit communities were a major factor during Covid. The hub gave inroads to the local authority and public health bodies to access these communities.

They ran a letter box service to help those needing support, as well as a helpline, tackling complex situations. “It’s an area of deprivation and decline. We’re dealing with lots of people on the poverty line, and lots of families in the migrant communities who struggle accessing the system.”

Without the hub, Gulnaz said these people would feel disenfranchised in a system that doesn’t work for them.

“We’re a conduit and their voice. If we weren’t here, they’d be further health inequalities, poverty and digital exclusion. We’re trying to empower, so people don’t become reliant, but are empowered by our services. I’ve seen the turmoil, the hardship, but the social impact of our work is huge.”

Gulnaz is a commissioner on the Independent Sheffield Race Equality Commission, to help achieve racial equality and social justice city-wide.

“We’ve been known to be very assertive, and not fit in, and very complicated. In that, we’ve always shined through in terms of our social impact and the lives that we’ve helped for people in these communities.”

The community hub is accredited to national standards with AQS in immigration advice and Matrix for information, advice and guidance, as well as being able to offer pathways to education and employment. It has a staff team of 19, with 30 volunteers.

Key Fund has an important role.

“Key Fund has stood shoulder to shoulder with our hub and taken us to the next level. They gave us our first grant to appoint a manager. So, historically we respect them. We were down and out, and felt brushed aside at that time, so whenever anyone did something for us it was really important.They made lots of things happen for us,” she said.

“With Key Fund, I feel like I’m talking to people who know you, and are there to help – they talk the language we talk. They have a belief in our organisation and always helped us, supported us and guided us. The opportunities they give to local organisations is phenomenal.”

With the cost-of-living crisis and divisions around migration already having a “massive impact” on her neighbourhood, Gulnaz is braced for the future.

“We’re never out of turmoil,” she said. “But I have hope. It can change for the better. It’s having that hope. I’ve seen change. It’s going to be tough, but when has it ever been easy for us? And we’ve come through.”

Funded by Power to Change
Loan: £175,000
Grant: £75,000
IMD 3% most deprived
EDI Group Minoritized Ethnic
Worked with Over 8,000 individuals

“Key Fund has stood shoulder to shoulder with our hub and taken us to the next level.”

Gulnaz Hussain
Firvale Community Hub


Maxine Zokari

Maxine Zokari, 62, was born and grew up in the area. Aged 20, she left to live in Doha with her husband who worked in the military police, before he moved the family to Yemen, where he was originally from.

“I’ve got 8 children, four boys and four girls and 29 grandchildren,” Maxine said. In Yemen, the marriage broke down. Her husband moved to America and at the age of 40, Maxine returned to Sheffield and got divorced.


“It was like my life was actually over at 40,” she said. “It was really rough in Yemen.” Maxine had been in a violent relationship. “I had regular beatings from him, rape.”

Firvale Community Hub became a friendly and safe place for her to turn.

“I don’t know what I’d do without that community centre, they’re absolutely brilliant.”

Recently, Maxine suffered a family bereavement.

“When my niece died, I went and sat in a room with them and they let me cry, and let me pour it all out, that’s how good they are.

Gulnaz said, ‘Anytime Maxine, come in, have a coffee, have a talk.’ That’s what you need round here, people that care.”

The hub helps her fill in forms for her son, who has cerebral palsy. She also has epilepsy and angina, and attends the ‘Food and Mood’ group, with weekly classes on health and well-being.

“My weight was bad because I was comfort eating. I was 19 and a half stone when I started going to this fitness awareness class and my weight has gone down to 14 stone.”

She attends meetings to discuss what the community can do on issues in the area, such as littering and anti-social behaviour.

“This is what we need. Without them we’d be nothing round here, and a lot of people would agree with me,” Maxine said.

“Without them, who would we turn to? Nobody? You’ve got a problem – you go to the community hub. They have a million percent my vote.

They are absolutely fantastic, you should see what kind of people they are – they make you feel welcome, they never turn you away.”

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