East London Community Champions recognised at Canary Wharf Awards – 11.12.19

Canary Wharf Group is delighted to announce the winners of its sixth annual Community Champions Awards which, on Monday 25th November, recognised and celebrated the incredible voluntary work of nine individuals who have been true champions and inspirations to their local community.

Hosted by Canary Wharf Group’s Community Affairs team at Level39, the event celebrated each of the champions’ outstanding contributions, ranging from leadership of local youth clubs, a film project seeking to develop a film school for people under-represented in the industry, Friends of Island History, an organisation working to preserve the heritage of the Isle of Dogs and other community organisations including the 5th Tower Hamlets Scouts and St Matthias trust, to supporting Housing Associations and local residents groups over many year.

The award recipients, who attended with friends and family, were Walter Berwick, Peter Steel, Peter Ellis, Debbie Levett, Gouri Choudhury, Helen Kenney, Mustak Ali, Joyce Lee and Mohammed Abdus Salam. Each person was presented with a framed certificate signed by Sir George Iacobescu CBE, Canary Wharf Group’s Executive Chairman, along with £250 to donate to a community organisation of their choice

Awards were presented by senior Canary Wharf Group directors and distinguished guests including Councilor Victoria Obaze, Speaker of Tower Hamlets, Ayan Mahamoud MBE and Met Police borough commander Marcus Barnett.


For further information, please contact:

Press Office
Canary Wharf Group plc
T: 020 7418 2166
E: pressoffice@canarywharf.com

Notes to Editors

About Canary Wharf Group:

Canary Wharf Group plc has overseen the largest urban regeneration project ever undertaken in Europe, designing and building more than 16.5m sq ft of London real estate, which now houses local and international companies and renowned retailers.

The Canary Wharf estate is a major retail destination comprising around 1m sq ft across five shopping malls, including the award-winning leisure development, Crossrail Place, housing one of London’s most stunning roof gardens.  It also has world-class, year-round arts and events programme offering over 200 diverse and culturally inspiring events performed throughout the Estate.

Canary Wharf’s new district, Wood Wharf, will provide up to 3,600 new homes, 2m sq ft of office space, 350,000 sq ft of retail space and over nine acres of public spaces, squares and parks. There will also be a GP surgery and a two-form primary school for 420 children.

Canary Wharf Group is a wholly owned joint venture between Brookfield Property Partners and the Qatar Investment Authority.

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About the recipients:


Born just behind Mile End Station in the middle of the 20th century the first child of a Bespoke Spectacle Frame maker and Seamstress.

On leaving school trained as one of the last Spectacle makers but also studied Mechanical Engineering at evening classes.

Married at Christchurch Isle of Dogs in 1970 and started teaching Dispensing Optics at City & East London College in the mid 70s until 2008.

On retirement I moved back to the Eastend after a gap of nearly 40 years.

Straight away became involved with the Tower Hamlets Cycleclub training and repairing bicycles as well as working with St Joseph’s Hospice collecting and delivering jumble for their sales a much needed source of income.

In 2015 I moved onto the Isle of Dogs and very soon became involved with the local food bank held at the Church where his married life started 45 years earlier.

Charity choice – St Joseph’s Hospice


Gouri Choudhury is an established Bengali music teacher, awarded-performer, and mentor.

She has served the Bengali community with her melodious voice – continuously developing her skills. She began studying music at the age of 6, and has since received diplomas in music and folk song, and performed on both Bangladeshi and UK TV and Radio. She is now a house-hold name in the UK-Bengali community and her popularity crosses over the ocean to North America too.

Born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Gouri Choudhury is a singer and music teacher who is today one of the UK’s most popular Bangladeshi performers. Gouri studied for ten years at a musical academy. She won the first of many national prizes at the age of 11, and at 12 was selected as an artist for Radio Bangladesh. By the time she was 16, she started to set the foundations of a career as a music teacher, with pupils aged between five and thirteen.

She has held positions as a Bengali music teacher for over 13 years at schools all over London as well as working for the Newham Bengali Youth Front. She is currently Music Leader of Newham Young Person’s chorus (NYPC) and Sing Up programme ARK.

Her work and dedication to music has been well recognised and she has received numerous accolades from various media organisations. In the UK, Gouri has sung with mainstream band Kula Shekhar and, in 1992, HMV released her first modern Bengali folk album. Most recently, Gouri gave her voice to the theme song for British film ‘A Fantastic Fear of Everything’. She is now an integral part of the Bengali community carrying forward the great South-Asian cultural heritage in the UK and beyond in the best possible way.

Gouri has been running her own music school named ‘Gouri Choudhury’s Suraloy’  since 2015 to teach students from all age groups across London.

Lately, Gouri has been working closely with an organisation known as Apasen. Apasen focuses on improving the lives of vulnerable people with learning disabilities, autism, and other special needs and she has been able to help them to explore their hidden and natural talents through the positive power of music. This supportive role, in the lives of so many of these people, has become a naturally rewarding experience for Gouri.

Awards and recognition

In 2002, she won the ‘Best Performance Award’ after being asked by Zee TV to perform on their show Antaksari.

Gouri has won many ‘Best Singer’ awards, from Bangla TV in 2004, BIMA in 2004, ATN Bangla in 2005 and the community award for ‘Best Singer’ from Channel S in 2006.

Since 2006, Gouri has been presented with numerous awards from various well known music appreciating organisations across the country.

In 2018 Gouri won the award by Nari Chetona – an organisation that recognises the contributions of women from the sub-continent in various disciplines.


Peter has been involved in working in Tower Hamlets since the 1950s. First as a voluntary outreach worker in Joan Littlewoods Theatre workshop at Stratford East. Then Peter worked as part of the Free Cinema.

He then got involved in Youth work running the Priory Centre in Acton and with Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42 which was an attempt to widen participation in the arts.  He was then asked to run the London Film group based in Kennington and Poplar.

In the 1960s Peter took a group of young people from Poplar to the Berlin Film Festival with two films about the Docks and housing estates in Poplar.

While working at the RSC in the 1980s Peter ran a project at George Green school adapting Ben Johnson’s The Alchemist. which the young people took and played at the Barbican.

Peter became involved with more Youth work with Peter Wade and the Docklands Settlement. Peter became a Governor at George Green School and helped set up a project for excluded children.

He is passionate about the built environment and as a member of the SPAB and the Town and Country Planning Association, when St Matthias became redundant and derelict he worked with many others to restore the building and help make it available for the community it now serves. He has been a longstanding Trustee of St Matthias and has known it since it was vacated as a place of worship.

A very faithful and reliable volunteer for their homeless evening project, always the first to get his hands in the sink for washing up not everyone’s favourite job…

And he hates being introduced to new volunteers and trustees as the Superintendent of the hit TV series The Bill….so I won’t do that this evening.

He is also involved with Four Corners Film Workshop which is at present actively trying to develop a Film School for people who are under-represented in the Industry and who would otherwise be excluded despite talent.

The East End has produced a great many writers, actors and directors. The aim is to generate to assist more people from the area to get into the Industry.

Charity choice – St Matthias


Helen’s passion for community involvement and improving conditions for others began at her secondary school in Highgate when she led a successful campaign to improve the quality of school dinners that she and her peers were receiving.

Her professional life has been shaped by her ability to identify a need for change and her considerable skills to organise and mobilise others to achieve goals.  Helen is known as a practical and resourceful individual who gets things done.

Having moved to Limehouse in 1979, she soon found opportunities to become involved in her local community.  When her son Daniel was at Cyril Jackson Primary School, Helen was elected to the school’s Governing Body and took on the role of Chair for five years.

When the Limehouse Development Group was established in 1982 funded by the Greater London Council, Helen took the opportunity to work part-time as community officer.  In this role she worked tirelessly for better outcomes for residents whose living accommodation was being disrupted by the construction of the Limehouse Link Tunnel that was taking shape below the streets of Limehouse.

Helen’s creative talents came to the fore during this period through a part-time lecturing role at the London College of Furniture, where she was previously a student, which was based in Commercial Road.  Helen’s sense of style and design was shared with her students in her teachings about textiles.

Helen’s work became known to the London Docklands Development Corporation, who employed her as a Community Liaison Officer in recognition of her effectiveness working with local people.  Whilst working for LDDC in 1990 she established Island Sports Trust.  One of her proudest achievements has been the refurbishment of the pitches and changing facilities at George Green School. Helen negotiated for the facilities to be open to the public outside the school day and are currently used by over 2,000 people each month. She is Chair of Island Sports Trust.

Helen has also acted as Chair of the charity “Magic Me” which united young people and local elderly residents through collaborative art projects.

When the LDDC closed, Helen took up a part-time role for Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership, helping to establish employment programmes to increase the skills and employability of local young people.

In this role she liaised closely with the local council and other community groups.  Helen moved on to work for the Isle of Dogs Community Foundation, where her role included setting up an apprenticeship scheme placing apprentices with Bart’s and London Health Trust and local community groups.

One such group to which Helen has devoted considerable time and effort is St Matthias Old Church in Poplar.  She has developed a close association with Sister Christine, to support the homeless shelter which has taken place at St Matthias through the winter months.  Helen regularly cooked meals for the guests and was instrumental in recruiting young volunteers from local primary schools whose sense of social responsibility developed as a result.

On a personal note Helen was a director of Limehouse Childcare for 30 years providing affordable childcare to the local community.

Today, Helen is closely involved with her local group, Limehouse Community Forum, where she is currently vice Chair.  She leads in organising the group’s events, including the annual Limehouse Festival.

Recently Helen has become a trustee at the charity Care for St Anne’s and plays an active part in the organisation’s fundraising committee.  The charity was set up to preserve and maintain Limehouse’s grade one listed parish church and is currently raising money to restore its stained-glass window.  In the longer-term, the charity plans to carry out a complete refurbishment of the building, ensuring it is an asset to the whole community for generations to come.

Charity choice – Sister Christine’s Homeless Project.


“This is Mustak Ali (Babul). I born in Bangladesh district Habigong, Sylhet division. When I was a school student, I involved in voluntary jobs. I was a member of boys scout group from school student and member children group call Bangladesh Mukul fouz. When I came to Britain, I joined with Betar Bangla from Mid 2002 (it’s a Bangladeshi radio station in London 1503am) as a volunteer presenter and news reader. I am still involved with this radio station. Along with these activities, I am a cricketer and qualified cricket umpire. When I was in Bangladesh I manage to organised Nirman school cricket local tournament and founder member of 4th division cricket league in Dhaka. I am involved in organising cricket matches in London and many other city’s. Last two years I am involved to organise many cricket tournaments including media cup T-10.With London cricket league as an Operational Director.

In 1984 I received best volunteer fouz of the year,
In 2006 I received CMA (Community Media association) all England best volunteer of the year,
In 2012 I received Betar Bangla best volunteer of the year.

I am married; wife 1 son 1 daughter living a happy life. My mother and my wife’s support is my inspiration to continue my voluntary works. Professionally, I am a journalist working in Bangla media here in London.”

Charity choice – Iqra International


Joyce came with her family from Hong Kong in early 90s, she was not only a house wife but also a volunteer of The Boy’s and Girl’s Club Association of Hong Kong for 5 years.

Joyce is now the Luncheon Club Co-ordinator who has for the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets (CATH) for almost 25 years.

Joyce has always worked tirelessly to support the most vulnerable in society, going well above and beyond the call of duty as a Co-ordinator in taking a holistic and caring approach to all. Her mantra of ‘looking beyond the label’ and the ends she goes in meeting peoples’ needs to help them, is an inspiration.

The driving force for Joyce as a dedicated and committed member of staff for CATH is the satisfaction of being able to help others, especially to raise the profile of the Chinese Community. She believes that persistence is the key to success.

Joyce also works as a Support Worker at CATH, working with individuals that have learning disabilities and challenging behaviours and supporting those individuals who wish to stay independent within their own home.

Examples of her compassion include:-

supporting a service user who was terminally ill at home, taking medication and food
finding accommodation for a homeless person and helping him to apply for benefits
organizing social activities for older people

One service user at our centre had the following to say about Joyce:

“I find that if and when I feel the need to see Joyce she has always has the time and care to respond to me and is very caring and listens to me very attentively. Also she has been known to help in matters that I could not do for myself. She always has an easy going attitude towards me that puts me at ease.”

Charity choice – Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets.


I came to the UK in 1969 with my parents at the age of 14 and lived in Brick Lane. At the time, I spoke no English and had a limited education. I initially enrolled to Robert Montefiore Secondary School. However, I stopped going to school due to the racist attacks I used to face en-route and at school. Therefore, I started attending an educational evening class at Toynbee Hall in the 1970s to compensate, which played a significant role my education and subsequent career.  This opportunity laid the foundation of my drive and motivation to establish similar facilities for the local youth and the community.  From the mid-1970s onwards, I used the flat I was living in as a base for meetings and extra circular activities to facilitate youth projects. This helped me and my peer group to empower ourselves. Along with the help these friends, I established the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO), which has helped and continues to help, the local youths in the community, socially and educationally. Alongside the PYO, I helped establish the following organisations and projects:

Tower Hamlets Law Centre – Actively engaged from developing Tower Hamlets Law Centre and to date, I am still part of the Management Committee.
Boundary Community Mother Tongue School  – Helped local youths engage with their mother tongue, which helped ease family relations
Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations – Established an umbrella organisation to fight with the local authority and central government against discrimination and inequality
Bangladeshi Educational Needs in Tower Hamlets (BENTH) – Established this organisation, which addressed issues why schools in Tower Hamlets were failing.
Phoenix Youth Project (Bromley by Bow) – Established another youth service organisation like the PYO
Kobi Nozrul Centre – The only Bengali cultural centre in East London at the time.
Keen Students School (KSS) – One of the first ever homework support classes and extra tuition organisation in the community
Truanting Youth Club – Opened to reduce the number of young people on the streets and encourage them to attend school through negotiation and effective communication. 

Charity selection – St Joseph’s Hospice


Peter has been a member of the 5th Tower Hamlets Scout Group since 1981. He has been involved in Scouting since he was 7 years old, when he joined his local cub pack in Moreton, Wirral. He then went on to become a Scout, a Venture Scout and then a leader.

In 1981 he moved to London to work at Roland House Scout Centre in Stepney Green; that same year he became involved with the 5th Tower Hamlets Scout Group, which at that time was based in the East End Mission, Commercial Road, Stepney.

He has continued to be active with the 5th Tower Hamlets to this day. Scouting gives children the opportunity to experience many activities, camps and outings that they would not usually get to try. The children learn respect for others and how to work as a team. They are able to earn practical badges for skills that they may not be able to learn in their everyday lives.

Peter has seen hundreds of children pass through his group over the years. Some of his former Cubs and Scouts have returned as adults to bring their children along. Some of his former pack have gone on to become leaders within the group, including the present Scout leader.

Even though he now lives in Essex he still attends Cub Scout meetings every Tuesday night in Tower Hamlets

Peter’s grandson is a Beaver Scout, following in his granddad’s footsteps.

Peter has made lifelong friends in the Scouting movement and is proud to always follows the Scouting values. It is amazing that an organisation like this is run entirely by people volunteering their time.

Charity choice – 5th Tower Hamlets Scout Group


Debbie Levett has served as the elected Secretary for Friends of Island History Trust (FoIHT) since the 7th June 2014. Before that she volunteered for the FoIHT’s predecessor, the Island History Trust (IHT), until its demise in 2014.

The IHT was founded in 1980 and became a registered charity in 1985. The FoIHT is also a registered charity, achieving this status on 6th June 2018.  Under the guidance of five elected Trustees and a committee of six, FoIHT are not only sharing the history of the Island, but are also continuing the work of recording new information and volunteering within the community.

Debbie was born in the East End and was brought home to the Island in the winter of 1963.  She and her younger sister both grew up in a close-knit community surrounded by generations of their family. Debbie’s paternal and maternal grandparents and great aunts and uncles were among the first members of the IHT having attended an Adult Education History Class led by a supply teacher; who later became the IHT Curator, at George Green’s School, the same secondary school on the Island that Debbie herself attended.

Debbie’s family, along with other current and former Island residents, became contributors to a wonderful photographic and oral history collection, and a number of them also volunteered for the group. Debbie’s great aunt was the first elected Chairperson of the IHT and her father was a Trustee who later strived to form its successor. At the age of 84 he is still its elected chairperson!

Debbie has been inspired by her family and upbringing to undertake a number of volunteer roles (alongside employment) since 1994. She first volunteered for a London hospital where her mother worked as a PA and, later, she volunteered for a special needs school in Essex where her younger sister worked. Now a grandmother herself, Debbie commutes to volunteer for the FoIHT and plans to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Charity choice – Friends of Island History Trust