A newly-appointed trustee of Wiltshire Community Foundation has pledged to champion voluntary groups across the county.
Swindon Borough Councillor and Parish Councillor for Central Ward Junab Ali is looking forward to joining the board of the foundation, which was formed in Swindon in 1975 and distributed £1.1m to groups across Swindon and Wiltshire last year alone.
He credits his year as Swindon Mayor in 2018 gave him an even greater insight into voluntary organisations.
Mr Ali said: “I thought I knew a lot of the charities because of my work as a councillor but that year really opened my eyes.”
The councillor was the first British Bangladeshi and Asian candidate in Wiltshire and Swindon to hold a council seat, and only the second in the South West, when he won a Central ward borough seat in 2008.
He said: “I think I will bring diversity and although I don’t pretend I know everything, I have got the connections and the life experience that might help with understanding a different section of the community.
“But I’m not here just to make up the numbers as a black and ethnic minority member. I’m here on my merit and here to promote Wiltshire Community Foundation, be an ambassador and bring more communities on board.
"I’ve broken down barriers ever since I came to this country and I will carry on doing that.
“I take my hat off to the voluntary sector. The majority of the people working in it don’t want any credit, they just work hard to help their communities. They are the real heroes.”
Born in Bangladesh, Mr Ali came to Wiltshire as a youngster when his family opened restaurants in Swindon, Royal Wootton Bassett, Marlborough, Chippenham and Cirencester. He grew up working in the family business and took on his own restaurant in Royal Wootton Bassett at the age of 18 while studying for his A-levels.
By the time he was 21 he had four restaurants and a staff of 50, and had given up a university place to concentrate on running them.
Then, 15 years ago, he went back to his studies, sold the restaurants and launched an electrical contracting business in Swindon.
“I had a young family, but I was working all the time, and for about 20 years I worked every weekend so I wanted to get some of my life back,” he said.
The 46-year-old, who is married to Rajhia and has three children, said he was approached to become a trustee of several charities after his mayoral year but wanted to join the community foundation because of its county-wide reach.
“It is for the whole of Wiltshire and we have huge communities that need help. We need to promote and get more community involvement.
"The community foundation has great prospects for the future, and I know it can do bigger and better things and I am looking forward to being a part of that and using my knowledge and life experience to help.”
Mr Ali is a non-executive director of Business West and has stood as a parliamentary candidate for Devizes and for a South West seat in the European Parliament.
He is also a school governor, a member of Rotary, a member of the Wiltshire FA’s Independent Advisory Group and vice-chairman of the Wiltshire Police Crime Panel.
He said: “My moral and social upbringing has always been to help your neighbours and your community in whatever way you can.”