Suad Ahmed: Health Improvement officer

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 54 seconds

Everyone has a story. Health Improvement Officer Suad Ahmed moved from Somalia to the UK aged four and has spent her adult life in Islington. Here she discusses ways to make healthy eating as fun – and beneficial – as child’s play for Islington families. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill

Suad Ahmed: “There are loads of things to do in Islington. Bright Start Islington provides lots of stay and play, baby massage and lots of free activities but you need to know where they are and where your nearest children’s centre is.” Photo by Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

“I grew up in Liverpool, and lived in Cardiff for a short period of time, so my accent is not as strong as it used to be” says Suad Ahmed over coffee at the new Pret a Manger by Highbury Corner. Suad’s Liverpool accent is there if you listen, but she has been living in north London since she came to Middlesex University to study Health Promotion.

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“I finished my degree in 2006, got married and moved to Islington as my husband lived here,” she explains.  “It took a while to get used to London. People in Liverpool are friendlier, in London everyone seems to be in a rush even when you’re just trying to get from A to B – Liverpool is a bit more laid back and there’s a bit more community feel. In London we are living a fast-paced life, but now Liverpool seems a bit too quiet!”

That sense of community led Suad to work at the Whittington Hospital for five years offering maternity support for mums with low mood and needing encouragement to breast feed. It also helped her decide to become a parent governor at Ambler Primary School. “It’s so important that governors are representative of the community,” she says. “I did it for two years. You’ve got to get involved – it’s important that all children, whatever their background are able to achieve.”

Living near the stadium Suad has become an Arsenal supporter but her four children, aged 11, 9, 3 and 2, like her husband are Liverpool fans. Weekends and evenings she’s busy with the kids and can often be found in Islington’s play parks. “I find that if we’re at home all day the children can get bored. Getting them out breaks up the day. Even if we go to the park for just an hour it’s amazing how much exercise they do.”

Suad Ahmed: “I find that if we’re at home all day the children can get bored. Getting them out breaks up the day. Even if we go to the park for just an hour it’s amazing how much exercise they do.” (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Given her interest in healthy eating and play it’s perhaps no surprise that by day Suad works as an Early Years Health Improvement officer. Her main focus is rolling out the Mayor’s Healthy Early Years London programme launched in October.

“It’s an award scheme similar to Healthy Schools for the early years (with First steps, Bronze, Silver and Gold awards) which recognises how important those early years decisions, from menu planning to play, are for a child’s long-term health,” explains Suad who has been part of the Islington team that developed a training toolkit to help other boroughs roll out the programme.  The scheme isn’t just for early years centres and childminders, it is also meant to help poorer and disadvantaged parents and those with lower mood or mental health issues.

“We want to introduce the benefits of nutritious food and make parents aware about what they eat and how it affects their body.  Healthy eating is also about offering water and milk to drink rather than juice as well as getting children involved and independent so they are getting ready for school life,” explains Suad who hopes all under five centres and childminders will sign up.

“We also want to show how physical activity is important. We’re finding screen time and game consoles is an issue even for children aged nought to five years old. It’s recommended that every day a child takes part in three hours of physical activity by walking to nursery, and playing games like hopping and skipping. Even babies can do tummy time which will help build muscle strength.”

“A great family run coffee shop, with friendly staff, which serves delicious Eritrean food,” says Suad Ahmed about Asmarino cafe, 138 Seven Sisters Road. (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

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Places Suad Ahmed likes in Islington

  • We attend Finsbury Park mosque and Muslim Welfare House regularly. They deliver a range of activities and events for the community and people from all walks of life.
  • My children really like the N4 library. They particularly enjoy taking part in the reading challenges. During the summer holidays my younger children enjoyed the singing sessions.
  • I get my meat from Al-Bahia butchers on Blackstock Road – I make a lot of Somali dishes with lamb and chicken. When it’s Ramadan and they have a whole selection of deserts and nice little treats.My children like pasta too. I leave the desserts to my husband, he makes a nice cheesecake.
  • Asmarino Cafe is a great family run coffee shop and serves delicious Eritrean food. It has friendly staff.
  • The Sobell Centre has a lot of activities for the children. We enjoy the trampoline park and my children also like ice skating.

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Suad Ahmed (c) Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Having had four children Suad has a huge knowledge about how to keep even babies entertained. “There are loads of things to do in Islington,” she says. “Bright Start Islington provides lots of stay and play, baby massage and lots of free activities but you need to know where they are and where your nearest children’s centre is. Some of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups aren’t accessing the services.”

Suad has also been working on the Families for Life programme which is Islington and Camden’s universal healthily lifestyle service. There are a range of different programmes to suit different ages and it has been designed for families with children aged two until 11.  Suad supports and trains primary school staff to teach parents how to cook basic healthy dishes and use quick recipes to create healthy food that everyone will enjoy eating.

“Family Kitchen is a six-week course and a good way to meet other families as they all cook together and then sit down and eat together. If your parents never cooked and got you got a take away meal all the time, you’re more likely to do the same when you have children. If you’ve only got a microwave or you think cooking is complicated this helps. It’s promoting skills and shows how take away food is quite expensive. Parents like it! It’s quite a shock for some parents to see how much sugar is in flavoured water (juice) – it can be six cubes. And it’s helpful for them to know that when introducing your child to a new vegetable you have to keep trying,” adds Suad positively.

With so many children in Islington growing up in poverty it is good to know that caring people like Suad Ahmed are finding fun ways to help mums, babies and toddlers develop healthy eating habits that will last and last.

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Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thanks to Helen Cameron for suggesting Suad. If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola