After arriving in the UK as an asylum seeker in 2000, Romail Gulzar was granted official refugee status and began working on making a new life for himself. He had moved to Southampton and started life in the city as a factory worker, as well as picking up odd jobs as a restaurant cleaner. However, whilst working multiple jobs to support himself and his family, he never lost sight of his dream to launch his own business.
He’d always had a passion for the arts and culture but wanted to create a project that would bridge the gap between the different communities and generations he lived amongst in his city. He also wanted to provide a platform for refugee artists to be able to blend their own culture with British culture. Perhaps, give them opportunities that he wished had been extended to him. It was this vision that drove the inception of his Christian charity organisation, Pukaar Project, a multicultural community music project that promoted and encouraged young and upcoming talent within the field of music, arts and drama.
Through the Pukaar Project, Romail began organising curry nights on a monthly basis as well as musical workshops and band performances. But just as the project seemed to be going from strength to strength, the world was hit by the 2007 recession. Tough economic times meant that the charity’s funds dwindled and the project was forced closed. Although it was difficult to process for Romail, by this time he been given a chance to see he could be a force for change within the local community, and was inspired to keep going. He also felt a keen sense of responsibility to keep supporting the people who’d helped drive the project forward.
So following this, he went onto establish Pukaar Limited, a news publication that shone a spotlight on narratives of diversity in Southampton. The business was a success and seemed to have hit upon a gap in the market, however, a year after it was established, Romail’s personal life took a devastating hit. His wife and mother to their two young children, passed away. Following the tragic incident, Romail saw his mental health deteriorate as he struggled to juggle managing his grief with the day-to-day running of a business. In the aftermath of the crushing blow, he saw his business close and he was once again left in the position he’d been in when he initially moved to the UK.
In an attempt to re-build his life and desperate for a new beginning, he eventually moved to the multicultural city of Leicester. He began to work as a factory cleaner to support himself while trying to find a path that would once again, allow him to help the community. He’d witnessed how powerful positive representation and narratives could be for a community, particularly an ethnic minority community, and wanted to continue developing on this. He enlisted onto a television journalism course at South Leicestershire College and at the same time, began circulating a weekly printed Urdu newspaper across Leicester. Although the newspaper struggled to find a large readership, Romail had at this point gained valuable journalism experience and with his new qualification, felt confident and clearer on the path that would fulfil his vision.
In 2010, a decade after moving to the country and working as a restaurant cleaner, Romail launched Pukaar News, a news agency and website which has since gone on to provide broadcast media for the BBC, Sky News and ITV and launched the careers of dozens of local young media professionals. Following this was the launch of printed publication, Pukaar Magazine which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and has featured cover stars such as Sir David Attenborough, Singer Sam Bailey and Olympian Luke Greenbank. As the two went from strength to strength, Romail then shifted his focus to event organisation in an effort to create platforms that would celebrate and showcase local talent and diversity.
Annual competition, Leicester’s Got Talent, kicked off in 2013 and shone a light on young and upcoming performers from the region and gave them a platform to grow in confidence and get publicity for further opportunities. Next came the Leicester Curry Awards, an awards show full of fun, music and of course, exquisite curry. Judging across seven categories, the latest awards show took place just a few months ago following a pandemic break and saw the city’s finest curry houses televised by global television network PTC Punjabi. Following the success of the hometown event, Romail decided to try the formula abroad and the Canadian counterpart, Toronto Curry Awards, launched in 2018 to widespread praise. And then, to firmly leave his mark on the British-South Asian culinary scene, Romail created National Samosa Week which runs from April 9th – 13th every year and aims to encourage people of all cultural backgrounds try to the savoury delight.
At this stage, the conglomerate, Pukaar Group had seemed to find its way and although the parts that made it up were different, they moved together in the same shared vision of diversity, inclusion and community. Romail had also taken up an additional role aside from his work with Pukaar Group which required a more hands-on approach when dealing with the local community. He had first become Chair of Crimestoppers Leicestershire and Rutland and a year later, also became Chair of Crimestoppers Nottinghamshire. All in all, he spent almost a decade working with the organisations and in that time, pioneered many local crime-prevention initiatives.
He’d also received national recognition for his community work, becoming recipient of a Unl.ltd Millenium Award and the Recognition of Services to the Not-For-Profit Sector Award by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In February 2020, he announced that he would be launching the Ethnic Media Awards but just a month later, the coronavirus lockdown was announced. During this time, like with many other businesses across the globe, workings across the business had to be adjusted but for Romail, although the period was busy and oftentimes stressful, he recognised there was an urgent call to bring the community together and provide help where it was needed. Using the media contacts he’d accumulated, he launched the Always In Our Thoughts campaign to recognise and remember people who had been affected by Covid-19. The campaign raised money that went towards the Leicester Children’s Hospital Appeal and Care of Police Survivors charities.
From cleaner to executive publisher, company director and community advocate, although his environment has changed, Romail’s vision has remained the same – to support the local community, promote diversity and provide a platform for upcoming talent.