The BSA’s work in communities, such as the Community Leaders programme, is helping build our understanding of what people and communities across the country need, how they see science, and the current barriers for engagement.  

With Ramadan approaching, the British Science Association spoke to Community Leader Zaffer Khan, the Chief Executive of One Voice Blackburn, an organisation in East Lancashire where two thirds of its members are under the age of 18. He discusses what he hopes will change for communities in the wake of the pandemic, and how he hopes it will be a chance for better inclusivity at the table from an earlier start point.  


The familiar sound of calls to prayer in mosques throughout Blackburn have disappeared since the government-enforced lockdown began in March. For Zaffer Khan, Chief Executive Officer at One Voice Blackburn, the silence is deafening. 

“Within the Islamic community, mosques and madrasas where children learn after school are focal points,” he says.  

“At the moment you haven’t got those connections, those friendships and it’s a major change. Yes, there are digital elements and you have the ability to connect, but it is harder for some of the older people.” 

The disruptions of COVID-19 have transformed how religions throughout the world practice faith. The change is particularly poignant for the Islamic community, however, as it prepares to enter Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting, with reflection, with prayer and with community. But without a place of worship. 

Zaffer says not going to the mosque during Ramadan will be a struggle, and a challenge “like absolutely no other” the community has faced before. 

“In the Islamic community, all males from the age of eight or nine go to mosque either on a Friday or certainly during Ramadan in the evenings.  

“Although [that] can’t be replicated in any shape or form, there are Islamic organisations that are looking to provide an online service to their worshippers. There are over 40 mosques in this area and each offer will differ. 

The immediate disconnection between the Islamic way of living and wider society has also been exacerbated by what he believes is an emerging digital poverty. While manifesto proposals from the Labour Party in the lead-up to the 2019 election about rolling out free broadband raised a lot of eyebrows, Khan says the pandemic has illustrated how vital it is for minority communities to keep connected. 

“Some community leaders and families I have spoken to haven’t got great broadband, they haven’t got a spare laptop or tablet for the younger people to use.  

“From a technology point of view, this pandemic has illustrated there is a case of the haves and the have-nots.” 

One thing that both sides of the technological divide agree on, though, is the need for change. An opportunity to improve a variety of areas within and between minority groups throughout the UK. 

“As we move out of this, we’ll have to have a look at how things can be improved form both a digital and community perspective. We also have to redefine see of the modes of equality to reflect access to modern communication.”  

The COVID-19 death toll continuing to affect minority communities in an alarming way. Analysis from one news outlet found that 70% of the 54 frontline health and social workers who have died in England and Wales were black or from an ethnic minority. 

The Government has confirmed it will be undertaking a review into why black and minority ethnic communities are being hit especially hard.  

According to the 2011 Census, Blackburn and Darwen has a Muslim population of 27% and South Asian populations at around 28%. This has created heightened awareness of the issues facing those communities at a local government level. However, Zaffer understands not all areas with lower Muslim populations have the same benefit. 

“I think organisations and bodies like the British Science Association have to think earlier about cultural needs, and how important that they are. 

“Models of diversity aren’t great if you are having to react, instead of having a proactive approach.” 

As the months go by, and normality seems to be ever increasingly possible, Zaffer says it would be a mistake to revert to the old habits. This is an opportunity, he says, but it still needs to be taken. 

“We have to look at the changes we’ve made over the last few weeks and improve on them. When it comes to online communication, we have to consider peoples’ broadband, the equipment, and also whether they have the capacity in their homes to conduct online communication. 

“I think by the time this is all behind us, we will have learned a lot about cross community collaboration, and how we pull together from a human point of view.” 

The thoughts of a leader himself preparing for reflection throughout Ramadan. 

If you are a researcher who is interested in partnering up with a local community, our Community Buddies scheme could be a great opportunity for you. Please visit our website for more information.