Celebrated community champion Nishall Garala sat down with us for a candid chat as he recalled his time in London as a student and opened up about his famed #BigUpHarlow project.
1. Nishall, you spent a lot of time in London during your studies – how was this experience?
London is a great place, especially when you’re around your friends. The experience thought me a lot of things and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly! Remember, wherever you are, embrace the location and get involved, the experience will be surreal and the more you do, more you’ll love it! Studying in Egham was great, as I would close to London and Windsor, so there was always something to do.
2. You started a community initiative dubbed #BigUpHarlow – tell us more?
#BigUpHarlow came about in October 2014, after I attended the One Young World Summit representing the UK. The summit saw over 1000 delegates from over 150 countries. During the summit, I spoke to many people, and everyone spoke highly of their hometowns, and with this thought, I went to the streets of Harlow to see what people thought of our town, but the responses were negative. After investigating this further, I found out the real source of this negativity came from social media, hence to combat this negativity, I launched the social media campaign #BigUpHarlow, to help people realise the greatness of Harlow. The campaign has gone from strength to strength with lots of important people supporting it and encouraging others to join in, which is amazing! Also, more and more people are using the hashtag to promote Harlow’s goodness, without any reminders, which shows that the initiative is changing people’s negative perception of Harlow.
3. How did you juggle university and running your community events?
Juggling university work and my community involvement was hard. During my time at university I did reduce my community engagement, as it was not feasible for me to be studying 2 hours away from home and also to attend community events all the time, however using the power of social media, I stayed in touch, and join community events via other means, especially through #BigUpHarlow. I often got called Mr Harlow at university as I was always speaking about the town and its greatness. During my university life, I did promote Harlow more as I was in a space where I could get influential people to support my cause. Hence without being in the town, I was still constantly “bigging” it up, and engaging with the community through other means.
4. What advise can you offer to young people who are starting up?
My advice to young people starting up is to grab every opportunity that is thrown at you, as you will never know where you could end up. Also try your best at everything you do, because if you don’t you will regret it, furthermore, if you can imagine something, you can probably be able to find a way to achieve it.
5. You are considered one of the most influential people in Harlow – how does this make you feel?
Being one of the most influential people in Harlow is amazing but sometimes scary, because you are constantly be watching and your actions will be seen by a lot of people. Realistically, its great to be influential, as you can ensure that any decisions or actions that are taken actually have a positive benefit on the town, also being influential allows me to get the voice of the people heard at senior levels, where otherwise, this may not happen. Overall the feeling is wonderful, who would have thought a 22-year-old from an ethnic minority could be this influential in a community which has lots of strong characters. It’s a big privilege to have this status!