We are a London-based arts and media charity, working with South Asian and Muslim communities across the country to facilitate positive cooperation and discussion through the arts. Our approach is always inclusive and open to people from all backgrounds, engaging wider Asian, Muslim, BME and all other communities in the UK. Using film, theatre and music, we provide creative spaces for people of all ages to explore cultural and social issues impacting their communities, fostering intercultural dialogue and community cohesion. Below are details and links to our projects and productions. Please explore and get in touch if you would like to work with us at email@example.com or The Samosa Media Ltd, First Floor, Menier Chocolate Factory, 51 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1RU. Registered charity number 1165245.
Anwar Akhtar – writer, journalist, and theatre and film producer – and John Pandit from the band Asian Dub Foundation set up The Samosa website in 2009 as an online media platform for young and progressive voices providing alternative stories on news and culture with an emphasis on Britain’s South Asian communities and links with South Asia. They shared concerns over the lack of thoughtful responses to the sectarian voices in mainstream media and social media that promoted antagonistic stereotypes and encouraged social tensions (see for example this article, which became one of the most read posts in The Samosa’s first year with over 20,000 shares). We saw that this negative representation affected community relations in Britain and dominated political debates around culture, community cohesion, integration and Islam, and we set up The Samosa to offer a platform for different narratives.
In our first year, we succeeded in engaging young journalists, filmmakers, universities, societies, human rights activists, artists and NGOs in Britain, Pakistan and India to contribute to the online platform. The site provided news and online resources for up to 2,000 readers a week. 90,000 people followed The Samosa in the first year alone. The site was widely respected as a balanced and informed news and culture portal on issues that affect British Asian communities from debates around integration and religion, gender equality to minority rights and conflict resolution in South Asia. Alongside this, The Samosa developed a reputation for high quality comment and analysis on sensitive issues such as racial segregation and religious tensions in Britain, interfaith issues within BME communities and grassroots conflict resolution work. This article by Charlie Baker shows some of our range. In 2013, The Samosa media project was able to significantly scale up its work in partnership with the RSA who were interested in The Samosa’s approach and in diversifying their audience (see Taylor 2013, CEO of the RSA). The Samosa and the RSA succeeded in securing funding from the East London Business Alliance (ELBA) and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to set up an online film project – Pakistan Calling. Stepping up from a grassroots online campaign project to a partnership with an established institution as connected and influential as the RSA was a significant milestone for The Samosa. Equally, the RSA found great value in the grassroots community links The Samosa had in Britain, our links in Pakistan and the energy and quality of the young writers and social activists involved in The Samosa’s media platform.
The Pakistan Calling film programme bridges stories and talent from the British Pakistani diaspora and Pakistan. It provides a platform for films, mostly shot by students from Britain and Pakistan, that cover issues such as identity, education, equality, culture, health, development, conflict resolution, women, tolerance and minority rights issues in both countries. The films are then broadcast and promoted online to different audiences, especially young British Pakistanis and community groups. The platform provides both a space for debates and a valuable information portal for communities and educational institutions to policy makers and development organisations.
Pakistan Calling has been very successful and is still growing. Working with filmmakers from Karachi, Lahore, London, Luton and Manchester, over 60 films have been produced and curated so far looking at a variety of social issues in Pakistan and the UK. With Pakistan Calling, we successfully initiated one of the few projects that created an intercultural dialogue between Pakistan and Europe. The filmmaking process allowed people, artists, community groups and audiences to connect across borders. For instance, students from London worked with filmmakers in Karachi and we now have young filmmakers and women’s welfare groups in Bradford connected to their peers in Karachi and Lahore.
We succeeded in bringing the films to hard-to-reach communities, such as this film shown in mosques and community centres across the UK, which helped raise awareness of disability and challenged prejudices towards disabled people in Britain and Pakistan. The film platform is an effective educational resource that has proven its worth and is widely used by cultural organisations, academics, students, women’s groups, teachers and youth workers. Bradford councillor Alyas Karmani said at one of our events: ‘It gives a different perspective on Pakistan through art … it opens people’s views, which supports social integration even more … young British Pakistanis gain a new perspective on their own heritage [and] are inspired to become social change makers.’ Chris Nicholls, principal of Luton Sixth Form College, said: ‘The project provided a wonderful opportunity for our students to share their experiences of life in Luton for young people of Pakistani heritage’ (2014). See for example this film screened at several community cohesion events which provides great insights into young people’s attitudes to racial and religious tensions in UK.
The films and education workshops reach a large audience including international conflict resolution networks and political decision-makers. Organisations such as Peace Direct, Insight on Conflict, Conciliation Resources, International Alert, Red Cross and Red Crescent have supported and shared Pakistan Calling – for example, this film was used by Red Cross and Red Crescent to raise awareness about emergency services workers in conflict zones. We built networks with institutions such as Karachi University and the SOAS Centre for Pakistan Studies and held events with large student groups in attendance. Details of project impact are available on the BBC, the New Statesman, the Huffington Post, and the Guardian.
Pakistan Calling had a significant impact on The Samosa as an organisation and led to a major partnership with the National Theatre and, subsequently, Dara, the first ever Pakistani-based play performed on the National Theatre’s stage. As an organisation that began as an online campaign project, our success working with the RSA to set up Pakistan Calling, the impact of the play Dara and now the further support we received have allowed us to become a UK registered charity. We have been able to pioneer and lead powerful work across the arts, education and peace building in the UK and Pakistan.
Who we are
Individual Trustees: Graham Hitchen (Chair), John Pandit (co-founder), and Sonia Raja
Company Secretary and Director: Anwar Akhtar
Anwar Akhtar was born in Manchester to Pakistani parents and spent his junior years working on his father’s market stalls selling clothing. He grew up in Rusholme, the heart of Manchester’s Pakistani community, and is fluent in Punjabi and Urdu. He has been a frequent visitor to Pakistan visiting family and working in the arts and social development, including teaching journalism at universities in Karachi and Lahore. He is an associate of www.urbed.coop, a Manchester-based regeneration practice. As production consultant, he was instrumental in bringing Ajoka Theatre’s critically acclaimed play Dara to the National Theatre in London. He has a degree in social studies (politics, history, and economics) from Sheffield Hallam University and a fellow of the Salzburg Academy. Previously, he was Project Director at The Rich Mix Cultural Foundation from 2001 to 2004, overseeing the capital development and operational business plan for a new national arts centre in East London, Senior Officer Culture Team at Greater London Authority from 2000 to 2001, Capital Projects Officer at Arts Council England from 1997 to 2000.
Graham Hitchen is a respected figure in the cultural sector. He was Design and Innovation Project Director for the London Development Agency, and founding Director of Creative London. He led work establishing Film London and the London Design Festival. Graham was also Director of Corporate Policy at Arts Council England from 1996 to 2000 and is current chair of Creative Islington and a member of the UK Design Commission.
John Pandit is a founding member of the band Asian Dub Foundation (ADF). John has for over 20 years mentored and supported young musicians through involvement in community music education using his high profile role in ADF to lead campaigning work on racism, violence against women and work in South America to support music organisations working against gang violence. He is also a trustee and founder of the Rich Mix Cultural Centre in East London (see The Guardian 2003).
Sonia Raja is a Management Consultant specialising in Business Change Management, having worked in professional services for over 10 years across industries and clients. At Ernst and Young (EY), Sonia was involved in diversity work and led the EY Muslim Network, successfully delivering CSR and charity partnerships to the network. Sonia is a founding member of the More London Muslim network and volunteers as a Girl Guide leader and a relationship manager at the Muslim Engagement and Development organisation (MEND). Sonia holds an MA in Environment and Development from King’s College London and carried out research in Egypt during the 2011 Egyptian uprising. Sonia’s thesis on the appropriation of women in public space was presented in Cairo as part of a workshop entitled Women, Egyptian Revolution, Culture and the Arts.
Patron – Liam Kane was from since 2002 to 2015 the Chief Executive of East London Business Alliance (ELBA), a pioneering social and economic regeneration agency, delivering large-scale community projects, working to support the voluntary and community sector in East London and the regeneration of local communities. Under his leadership, ELBA has gone from 300 volunteers to 14,000 and routinely attracts substantial funding from private and public sector organisations due to its reputation for providing effective solutions for key issues that East London faces such as employment, education, and child poverty. Liam played a major role in supporting the work of The Samosa through ELBA’s community programmes that provided seed funding and pro bono support. See ELBA.
Education Officer – Farha Bi is a law graduate with expertise working in corporate and non-profit environments and experience working at grassroots level in conflict zones. A social activist keen to explore creative ways to effect change, she has many years of experience working in arts, theatre and media, including numerous education based projects working with young people in Britain and internationally.
Website and online– Naveed Alam is a multilingual journalist with experience of news-gathering and reporting in both the UK and Pakistan, across print and broadcast media. He has wide-ranging knowledge of global affairs, with a special interest in Pakistan and the ‘War on Terror’. The Unified Media Club of Pakistan awarded him their young journalist award in 2010. He has a Masters in International Journalism from Brunel University in London. He also works in the newsroom at Express News, one of the leading news channels in Pakistan, and as a reporter on the weekly newspaper UKTIME covering a range of social and political issues of interest to a Pakistani audience.