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'As soon as I stepped outside my front door I was Scouse. I'm proud to be Scouse and I'm proud to be Muslim'

Monday June 27, 2022

Mo Elmi speaks to the ECHO about what the L8 community means to him and how to protect it

Mo Elmi on Princes Road, Toxteth (Image: Andrew Teebay)

It's a warm Wednesday afternoon and Muhammed Elmi sips from a bottle of cola as he sprawls across the sofa in a city centre café.

The community engagement associate, dressed casually in a t-shirt and white Nike trainers, jokes it's very different to the usual can of Coke he'd pick up from his local shop at home in Toxteth. Just the day before he had celebrated his 26th birthday - choosing to spend it in the community before seeing friends in the evening.

He explains: "It was more satisfying spending it in the community and going about my usual day. It was one of the best birthdays I've had in a while." Muhammed, or Mo as he's known to people in Toxteth, meets the ECHO after sitting on a panel discussing the Waterfront Transformation project around Canning Dock.

Mo tells the ECHO his role on the panel was to focus on how the developments can support well-being in the community. It's something he knows a lot about. He reels off a list of projects he's involved in that would be impressive as the CV of someone twice his age.

As well as working as a wellbeing researcher and development worker based in the Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre on Princes Road, Mo acts as a translator for refugees, volunteers with community interest groups including First Person Project and Mulgrave Street Action Group, and works with the NHS and the School of Tropical Medicine.

Speaking with Mo it's clear his focus is on two things - community and identity. And for him they're related and both sources of immense pride.

Born at the Women's Hospital just minutes away from the street in L8 where he lives now, he has a deep affinity and understanding of the city around him. Growing up in a Somali-Muslim background in Toxteth he was exposed to a unique melting pot of cultures.

"I grew up in L8 which is an amazing amalgamations of ethnicities, religions and sexualities," Mo explains. "I got to experience all of that and it's beautiful.

"I grew up in a very conventional Somali household but as soon as I stepped outside my front door I was Scouse. I'm proud to be Scouse and I'm proud to be Muslim.

"A lot of ethnic minorities have an identity crisis so I feel I have a duty to the area by trying to change that - and that's something that's an honour. My area has a beauty and a power. You can feel the history around you."

Mo speaks with a quiet intensity when talking about the L8 community. He explains he sees his community struggling around him but only those on the inside have the power to change that.

He points to the recent public disagreement between Chief Constable of Merseyside Police Serena Kennedy and Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell after Ms Spurrell called her area's force institutionally racist. "You've got one person coming out against the other and they're supposed to be working together," Mo says.

"So how do you think that looks for grassroots organisations and everyday people? Everybody is feeling frustrated. People are struggling with the cost of living crisis.

"But we can't keep expecting people who don't understand the fabrics of our society to protect them for us. Only we have the power to protect the fabric of our community. We've been constantly let down by the Government and other authorities - they're not going to help us.

"Community organisations and charities are the best equipped to relate and understand the people they serve."

Mo says communities need to improve on the work they are doing by reviewing how they work and impact the area. "Collaboration and effective partnership is the way forward in this era," he says.

"The foundations have been built, so we need to protect them to ensure we protect the fabric that holds our communities together."

He adds to do this community organisations need conversations with themselves - as part of an open community - to change things for the better. He says "we just want to be able to get in the right room with the right people so we can discuss the solutions with them".

He adds that everyone just wants to live a good life - and to do that you need to protect the people around you. Mo's work regularly sees him interact with some of the most vulnerable people in society including those living in poverty, those struggling with their mental health, and those new to the city including asylum seekers.

"Lives could be wasted if we don't help. The desire to help is what makes me, me. My faith reaffirms my belief and I want everything I do to have a positive impact - there's too much negativity," he muses. "Us, as part of a community, have to come up with ways to help, integrate and support people who are struggling into our communities."

And although his work and his call for community strength has so far been focussed in the south of the city, Mo calls for more people to be brought into the conversation. He points to the north of Liverpool and the dock areas where generations of families have lived and worked compared to the amalgamation of cultures around L8.

"I'm always trying to understand the two sides of the city so let's hold spaces where we can speak about how we collectively improve everything for us all. Liverpool accepts diversity.

"You walk the streets and see black people, white people, Christians, Muslims, whatever it may be. But we're all Scousers and should say hi in the street and have a joke in that typical Scouse way - we're all part of the same community.

"Scouse is the universal identity and something we really need to hold onto."


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