A reformed drug user, an undefeated boxer and a community activist have warned against the 'plague of drug dealing' in Oldham. 

Nestled in the heart of the town, Nxt Gen ABC, a boxing gym on Ashton Road has emerged as a beacon of hope, making a positive impact within the community through inclusive classes for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The mission of the gym is to get vulnerable youngsters off the streets and away from drug and alcohol abuse and the clutches of predatory drug dealers.

The gym has produced professional boxer Aqib Fiaz who has had 11 victories and remains undefeated in the ring. Despite his success, the 23-year-old remains humble, down-to-earth and committed to the community.

He said: “In our community, drug abuse is rife. We need to set up activities which youngsters can engage in rather than spending time on street corners and getting up to no good. We need more youth centres, football clubs and regular extra-curricular activities.

“Kids now have someone to look up to. When I was growing up I didn’t have a positive role model. It was something I didn’t really understand before turning professional.

"I want to give back to the youngsters in my area. I want to be a inspirational role model and give them hope that if I can do it then they can do it too. It is a lot of pressure for someone of my age.”

A positive role model in the heart of the community

Aqib has been boxing from the age of eight. He started to train at a predominantly white amateur gym in Clayton with his older brother Asim who is now head coach at NextGen ABC.  Asim opened the gym four years ago.

Aqib said: “I’m still chasing my goals and things I want to achieve. Coming from an area like Clarksfield and Glodwick, I have humble beginnings like everyone from around here.

“Clarksfield and Glodwick are my home and I wouldn’t change them for the world. But we should always strive to be better. I want to better my life and my family’s too. So that’s what motivates me.” 

He says when he was younger he would look towards drug dealers with their fancy cars and expensive clothes and watches with envy. 

“I used to think these guys have worked hard to get these things. Many of my childhood friends take drugs. Boxing definitely kept me out of trouble. I never thought I could do as well as I have done.

“Majority of our 200 members are Asian but we do have some white and black kids too. 

"Everyone is welcome. We also have female members including a hijabi boxer.

“Exercise is good for mental as well as physical health. We want to give everyone a chance.”

Asian Image:

Aqib’s brother Asim is equally passionate about making a positive change through boxing and youth work at his gym.

He told us: “With new role models like Aqib people know there are other ways to live well such as having a good job or through sport - not just through drug dealing.

“We now have role models who are successful athletes, successful businessmen, and just hard working people in general like my father who had three jobs while we were growing up.

“Having a boxing club in the area has definitely helped to keep kids off the streets and away from substance abuse and drug dealers.”

Asim added: “Families of drug addicts need help and support.  We need drug rehabilitation centres in Oldham. There are many anti-drug campaigns going on but not in areas like Glodwick. The issue is hidden and people don’t like to talk about it.

“No one likes to admit that ‘my family member is a drug dealer or a drug addict.’

“The anti- drug campaigns are visible in Manchester and Oldham town centre but we don’t see them in deprived areas as it is taboo. So these campaigns need to be promoted in areas including Werneth, Coppice and Westwood among others.”

How important is culturally sensitive support

Mufti Helal Uddin, MBE from Oldham Mosques Council (OMC) said a lot more needed to be done going forward to help drug users and their families.

He has previously worked in Drugs and Alcohol services for five years and the number of people from BAME communities who used the service was ‘unbelievable’.

“We need someone to look at the dire situation in Oldham and map out what’s needed. 

“If a person misuses drugs and wants to stop, there are no places for them to go to for rehabilitation. We used to have a sensitive and culturally diverse Drugs and Alcohol service to look after people from the BAME community. That initiative finished in 2006 and hasn’t been revisited again.

“There aren’t any organisations which are culturally sensitive, so this stops the community from using these services. 

“It is a civic responsibility so the council and the local Drugs and Alcohol services need to work together, and they should at least employ someone from a BAME background to look after the needs of the community.

“If someone approached the OMC regarding drug related issues we could advise them but we aren’t equipped to deal with addiction. The question in this situation is who do we refer them to?

He added: “After school classes are a good platform to educate the next generation. Imams need to address the issue in their Friday Jummah sermons too.

“Families of drug addicts suffer in silence as it is such a taboo subject. 

“The community needs to raise this issue with elected councillors. They can talk to Drugs and Alcohol services to request a member of the BAME community to support them.

"At the moment the most widely used drug is laughing gas or Nitrous Oxide. Most people don’t even think of it as a drug. So it was important to raise awareness in schools and after school mosque classes as dealers are targeting young children."

The OMC are planning drug awareness sessions for Imams and mosque teachers in the future, including about the effects of drugs.

According to a source, compared to 5-10 yrs ago there isn’t as much visible drug dealing going on. But now it is the more dangerous drugs that are being peddled. 

Mufti Helal Uddin added: “Previously, it would be cannabis that was sold, but now youngsters are slipping through the net and becoming addicted to class A drugs such as cocaine and heroin.”
“Anyone can become an addict but how can we get them off drugs?”

The Bolton model

An initiative in Bolton may provide an answer and a way forward. The Centre of Excellence founded by Faisal Bagasi and Ahmed Patel works with local councillors, mosques and community leaders to address the drug problem. 

Faisal said: “The council and other community organisations were unable to provide a solution so we teamed up with The Flowhesion Foundation and got some professionals together on a voluntary basis. The professionals have experience with mental health and the drug issue.

“We deliver drug awareness presentations in local mosques and community centres to students aged 12 years and above. 

“We make a  45 minute presentation. We don’t just talk about drugs we take a sample drug box aswell and let the children and teachers have a look. We also have an activity using beer goggles where they can have a glimpse of what it is like to be intoxicated.

“The problem is that the issue isn’t being highlighted as it should be highlighted. It’s been accepted by the community and by families who accept it as a source of income.”

'The drug problem will always be there'

Nanu Miah, 48 from the Coldhurst area of Oldham is a community activist who says he has seen it all. 

He told us: “I campaign against drugs. In the past, I rallied a few people and we went outside drug dealer’s houses and gave them deadlines to leave our area. They actually left.

“Taking direct action against drug dealing was successful to a certain extent. However, I don’t take direct action anymore but I focus on youth work instead. If you get rid of one dealer another replaces him.  Vigilantism doesn’t work so let the police deal with it. 

“The campaign is never ending. The drug problem will always be there.  The only way to stop it is to end the demand.

“How to get rid of the demand?  It is upto parents and mosques and community groups. They need to be pro-active. We have to educate young people. Also, we need to keep youngsters occupied and busy so they don’t have time to get addicted to drugs.”

Nanu added: “I believe once your child reaches the age of seven or eight that child needs a hobby. It could be football or badminton or other after-school-clubs to channel their energy.
“When the child is passionate about sports he won’t hang around on street corners shaking hands with manipulative drug dealers. 

“In a shocking development, in the past it was lads dealing drugs to lads but now they’re targeting young girls too. There is a growing number of girls addicted to drugs.

“We need parents to take their children to activities and spend quality time with them. Parents, Imams, community leaders all have a role to play.

“We also need to reason with drug dealers and expose them to the consequences of their actions.”

'Blackmail is also used to keep the user under control'

An ex-substance user who grew up on the streets and has first-hand experience of how dealers operate described how they are organised. 

The reformed addict who did not wish to be named said: “They start off by using vulnerable drug users who fall into debt as drivers to take the fall if they are caught. 

“As these drivers get more trustworthy and loyal they move up the ranks and eventually take over from the street dealer who ends up living a good life while vulnerable users take all the risk and deal unethically to kids and others. This sometimes results in fights and stabbings. Blackmail is also used to keep the user under control.

“Drug dealers are not only destroying one person but a whole family and the extended family too. This ripple effect has an impact on the community as a whole. 

“A lot of people don’t know the extent of what’s going on in their communities.” 

Oldham Council said it was working hard with partners to ensure people got the right support and agencies were able to target criminal gangs.

Councillor Barbara Brownridge, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Oldham is sadly no different to other areas across the country, in tackling illegal drug supply.

“We’re working hard with our partners to tackle this problem and we urge anyone with concerns over drugs being dealt in their area to contact the police or report their concerns anonymously to Crimestoppers.

“Specialist services are available to support those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse in Oldham and these services are promoted widely across our communities. 

“This includes Early Break, which helps young people to get the necessary support, counselling and treatment they need at the earliest opportunity, and Turning Point which provides an integrated drug and alcohol treatment and recovery service for any Oldham resident who needs advice, support or access into structured treatment.

“As a council we also oversee Oldham’s Drug and Alcohol Partnership which reviews how we can better tackle these issues across our borough so we can work to achieve the Government’s 10-year drug plan to cut crime and save lives.

“The health and wellbeing of our residents is paramount and we will continue to do all we can to support those struggling with substance abuse and addiction to enable them to fulfil a healthy and productive life.”

Oldham, much like surrounding town was crying out for more positive role models like Aqib Fiaz, more sports and extra-curricular activities and youth clubs. 

The drug problem in parts of Oldham are nothing short of devastating, tearing families apart and casting a dark cloud over the community. 

However, for many people working at grassroots level, hope remains.

If you need help and support  on any of the issues raised in this article then you can find out more here:

Inspire Oldham

Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Oldham

The Centre of Excellence

Oldham Council Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Recovery Services