IBRAHIM DOGUS IS NEW MAYOR OF LAMBETH – DOING THE LAMBETH WALK: A JOURNEY FROM REFUGEE TO MAYORAL ROBES
Amid the chaos of the Westminster Bridge atrocity, as exhausted emergency teams tended scores of life-threatening injuries, one selfless act summed up the strength of community spirit.
Ignoring police warnings to evacuate for fear of further attacks, Ibrahim Dogus held open the doors of his restaurant, Troia, yards from the scene, and told staff to keep cooking for weary rescuers until every survivor had been treated.
It was close to midnight before the last of nearly 300 members of the police, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service accepted his hospitality on that harrowing night in 2017.
Yet for a father-of-two, whose beliefs are steadfastly rooted in hard work and public service, the hours worked and the personal cost were a small price to pay for giving something back to a country that had offered him so much. Arriving in London as a Kurdish refugee, aged just 14, in 1994 and able to speak barely any English, few could have predicted the remarkable path ahead of him.
From humble beginnings working long, gruelling hours in a Turkish restaurant, he began to salt away his modest earnings, with the dream of bigger things to come.
“It was really tough life at first”, Ibrahim fondly recalls. “I was working up to 16 hours a day for seven days a week.”
“But I was always aware that it was the only way to grow and give myself opportunities in the future.
I was working towards something. There is no better incentive than knowing that.”
Harnessing the astonishing support shown to him by Londoners, Ibrahim managed to set up his own business.
From the founding acorns of his ambition, the striving, the long, arduous effort and the years of saving would finally bear fruit.
He now runs several successful small businesses and not for profit organisations including three restaurants in South London where more than 50 people are employed.
His act of selflessness during the Westminster attack was published by The Independent and shared by readers across the globe.
The police were so struck by the restaurant owner’s actions that Lambeth’s Borough Commander Simon Messinger awarded Ibrahim a special commendation.
Yet, not content with simply enjoying the financial gain his success has brought him, Ibrahim pledged himself to public service in a bid to better his community and improve the lives of those less fortunate.
It was the start of a journey which has today led to him becoming the Mayor of Lambeth.
As a teenager he personally witnessed the uncompromising commitment and skill of doctors and nurses working in the NHS.
“They saved my life. I will be forever grateful to them and it made me realise just how fortunate we are to have the NHS,” said Ibrahim as he recalled the terrifying memory of being shot in the stomach as he tried to tackle the scourge of Turkish drug gangs in Haringey.
It remains to this day a traumatic moment in Ibrahim’s life etched on the father-of-two’s mind and further steeled his determination to mobilise his drive, contacts and influence into a force of good across Lambeth and London.
As a community leader for more than 20 years, he has worked to foster better integration, particularly among ethnic minorities.
He raised cash to set up and run football leagues with over 30 teams aimed at encouraging disadvantaged young people who, otherwise, could have easily found themselves sucked into the hopeless world of anti-social behaviour, knife crime and drug addiction.
His roots in proud Kurdish traditions and principles have provided a solid core to his work.
While his family life with wife Raife Aytek and two young sons, Mirzan, 9, and Alan, 4, give him reason to pursue a better future.
At the age of 19, Ibrahim was elected chair of Halkevi, one of the UK’s largest community centres serving 16,000 people, where he led a team of 30 staff working to integrate Turkish and Kurdish communities.
After a spell as the chair of a national Kurdish/Turkish charity, he is now the founder and director of the Centre for Turkish Studies (CEFTUS), Centre for Kurdish Progress, the founder of the Telgraf newspaper for Kurdish and Turkish Communities and the London Kurdish Film Festival and the publisher of this community newspaper, Lambeth Life.
The latest stage in that community work and public service saw Ibrahim elected as the Mayor of Lambeth. It is an office he will take over after working alongside the present incumbent, Councillor Christopher Wellbelove, as deputy over the past year.
“It was one of the proudest days of my life,” said Ibrahim.
“I love Lambeth and representing the place I live with my family and where my businesses are is a huge honour.”
That this civic recognition comes just a year after he was elected by Labour to represent Bishop’s Ward, where he lives with his family, is a clear sign that far more is still to be achieved.
However, Ibrahim, while unfazed by the task ahead, is under no illusions that in one of the capital’s most diverse boroughs, where housing, transport, air pollution and the need to protect public services are at the top of the new mayor’s priority list, many tougher challenges are yet to come.
The fifth-most densely populated English district faces uncertainty – with the outcome of Brexit set to play a major part in the local economy.
“There is no quick fix, but I will be doing everything I can as Mayor to try to make Lambeth a cleaner, safer place to live and work and to tackle those key issues like the lack of affordable housing,” he says.
As well as employing dozens of local people, Ibrahim’s string of restaurants are fast earning him a reputation as one of the rising stars of the capital’s restaurant industry.
In 2013, he set up the British Kebab Awards to celebrate the success of the many migrants who, like him, came to the UK and set up thriving small businesses.
The annual event has now become a firm fixture in the calendar for politicians of all parties.
Ibrahim even persuaded Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a staunch vegetarian, to attend this year’s event at the Park Plaza Hotel in March.
The other guests included Conservative mayoral hopeful Shaun Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, Conservative MP Bob Seeley and arch Tory Brexiteer Mark Francois. In previous years, guests have included London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Mischievously, Ibrahim also presented research for the event to show the average kebab eater was more likely to have voted Remain rather than Leave.
He has even created a new beer, Bira London, specially brewed to be eaten with kebabs.
Perhaps aware that politics is no place for the shy, Ibrahim hit the headlines in January by warning of the dangers of Brexit as he printed a message on receipts in his restaurants in pro-Remain Lambeth.
It read: “Brexit is bad. Immigrants make Britain Great! They also cooked and served your food today.”
Despite getting death threats, Ibrahim refused to remove the message celebrating immigration which he felt compelled to write on the day MPs voted on Theresa May’s Brexit plan.
While he vows to work tirelessly for everyone in Lambeth, he is a first and foremost a Labour politician.
Ibrahim remains heartily convinced that Labour is the only party that can deliver for local residents and businesses.
As the Labour candidate in the 2017 General Election, he managed to turn the once-safe Tory seat of Cities of London and Westminster into a marginal seat with a 9% swing that saw Conservative MP Mark Field’s 10,000 majority slashed to just over 3,000.
In Lambeth, Ibrahim was previously the membership secretary for his ward before becoming a councillor and was the Fundraising Officer for Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party.
He set up SME4Labour – a group dedicated to building Labour’s support among small firms and the self-employed.
His efforts to promote small businesses and a positive message on the benefits of migration have seen him featured by a host of publications and broadcasters including the Evening Standard, The Times, the New Statesman, the BBC and Sky News.
He has also been a major fundraiser for the party and organised successful events for senior figures including Mr Corbyn, Sadiq Khan and the late Tessa Jowell.
Representing the borough at events ranging from the Stockwell Festival and Remembrance Sunday to citizenship ceremonies at the Town Hall and charity fundraisers at Brockwell Lido he cuts a very recognisable figure.
He said: “I’m looking forward to an exciting year representing Lambeth as its mayor. I’ll be doing all I can to support this fantastic and diverse community.
“I care passionately about Lambeth and would encourage everyone to get involved in helping make Lambeth an even better place to live and work.”
From the teenage refugee forced to flee the political turmoil of Turkey to the successful businessman, community leader, charity fundraiser and politician, Ibrahim remains humble about his achievements.
His pride of attaining the high office of Lambeth’s Mayor far outweighs the hardships he has faced.
Yet, clearly, as he is yet to celebrate his 40th birthday, this is a journey far from over.
It can only a matter of time before Ibrahim Dogus is opening doors on the other side of Westminster Bridge.