Having grown up with seven siblings in a small house in Longsight, Furqan Naeem knows more than most, the importance of free school meals.
Sometimes, it was the main meal he would look forward to in the day – knowing he’d get a full plate of food, a drink and a packet of crisps.
So when a local lad from Wythenshawe named Marcus Rashford made history on Tuesday, it struck a chord with Furqan.
In a shock u-turn on Tuesday, Boris Johnson confirmed the government would pour £120m into a one-off ‘COVID summer food fund.
It came after the 22-year-old footballer penned an emotional letter to MPs, detailing his life as young boy growing up on free school meals, in Northern Moor.
“I know what it feels like to be hungry,” Rashford wrote.
It was a letter that resonated with Furqan, who is now 33 and works as a Campaigner and Community Organiser for Citizens UK.
His sister was in the same class as Rashford’s sister, and Furqan remembers watching the aspiring footballer, as he moved up the ranks.
He felt so moved by what someone – not only from his favourite football team – but from a neighbouring south Manchester suburb had achieved, that he had to share it.
Below, Furqan talks about what Rashford’s achievement means for low-income families like his, and why we need more role models like him in Manchester.
Ever since I saw Marcus doing some stuff I was really inspired by his work and kept a close eye on him. It was just amazing to see the work he did this week, I was so proud.
As a Mancunian, United fan, black and minority ethnic person, just seeing a role model in the community standing up was amazing.
I have never seen any sports star doing something like this on this kind of scale, and I think the reason was because of his personal story.
A lot of his story that he spoke about resonated with me because I went through a lot of the same things as he did, and he speaks very highly of his mum.
My mum was exactly the same – she pretty much raised eight children single-handidly.
She is almost 60-years-old but still working as a primary school teacher at Plymouth Grove Primary School in Ardwick.
When he spoke about his mum and the hard work she had to go through to put food on the table for their five children, it made me think about what my mum had to do and the sacrifices she made just to make sure we had food.
He mentioned how he remembers going to lunch clubs and Poundland and it was quite similar for us growing up as well.
I was brought up and raised in Longsight. I went to Birchfields Primary School and then Burnage High School.
I used to hear some things just before he made his debut in the year between 2015 and 2016. I knew there was a young footballer doing some good things, some local boy.
His sister went to school in Levenshulme so my older sister and her were in the same class. They were mates and are still mates today.
She was saying she messaged her on Facebook to congratulate the family for the work they did. They must have shared some of those free schools meals together.
In terms of my personal story, growing up in a household with seven siblings, if it wasn’t for those free school meals that we had, I definitely know my parents would have struggled to feed us all.
We grew up on similar kinds of benefits so those free school lunch meals made a vast difference to our lives.
Sometimes it was the main meal you would look forward to because you know you could get a full meal with a drink and packet of crisps that might not be in the household.
But we’re all doing well now, we’ve grown up and become successful, my siblings have become Pharmacists, a nurse, and a dentist.
I’m a community organiser, and this might have not been possible if it wasn’t for things like free school meals, so that we could concentrate on studying hard.
The thing that is important now is that we don’t just leave this to the celebrities to win for us. Ordinary citizens and the people going through hardship, we can do something ourselves as well.
I think that is what Marcus would want as well.
The other part to this, especially with the Black Live Matters movement, shows we are at a time when the country is screaming for young, articulate, black roles models.
And here we have someone.
We need more role models like Marcus, and I know the past couple of weeks there has been talk about statues.
That is the way people can aspire to things, if they see people who look like them and sound like them making a difference.
Then they are more likely to go out and there and think I can make a difference like Marcus.
I want people to think ‘if I am on benefits and having free schools meals, I shouldn’t be ashamed, but I am going to work hard to make a success of my life like Marcus did.’