Skip to main content

Social Work student awarded the Jock McKeon prize for inspirational leadership

Our MA social work alumnus Bhim Tamang was awarded Brunel’s Jock McKeon Prize for establishing and leading the Gurkha Centre and for his contribution to the Nepalese minority in the UK while simultaneously completing his studies at Brunel. 

portrait of Bhim TamangThe Jock McKeon prize for inspirational leadership is in memory of Jock McKeon, a former Brunel Students’ Union President. Every year this prize of £500 is awarded to a final year doctoral researcher, undergraduate or postgraduate student who has demonstrated leadership skills, or who has inspired others in their social, academic or professional development during their time at Brunel.

During Bhim’s transition from military service to civilian life, he had to overcome financial hardship, family breakdown and homelessness. This also made him aware of the barriers and challenges faced by other veterans in the UK. Once he was back on his feet, he started supporting members of his Gurkha minority, mainly older veterans, their wives, and widows, who were facing destitution and distress.

Many older Gurkha veterans and their families face a multitude of problems from housing to health and social care, and often lack knowledge about the available support services. To address those issues and to support and empower this community, Bhim started acting as an advocate, interpreter, and enabler trying to reduce the impact that comes from language barriers, low-level literacy, age and poor health. The demand for support grew quickly. In April 2019 he set up The Gurkha Centre as a charity to provide advice, information, and support to the Gurkha Nepalese communities in West London and beyond.

To educate and upskill himself in the areas of social care and to position the charity in a place where it is trusted and respected, Bhim embarked on the Social Work (MA) course. Within a short span of time, the charity managed to forge a relationship with key local partners. The charity’s Board of Trustees oversees its policies and compliance. The Gurkha Centre has a small, dedicated team of staff and volunteers who run the office in Hayes from Monday to Friday between 0900hrs to 1700hrs. On an average day, between 10-15 cases are handled in areas of health, welfare, and benefits support. It also provides functional English and ESOL classes in partnership with Links2Work. During the COVID-19 national lockdown, the charity ran online English language workshops. Bhim followed by forming a COVID-19 Gurkha Community Support Group on Facebook and holding regular meetings and updates with volunteers. He mobilised volunteers in reaching out to people and delivered essential food items, masks, and prescriptions. The Gurkha Centre also conducted welfare checks on vulnerable adults via telephone calls and visits. To keep the community up to date about COVID-19, the Centre offered a live video broadcast in Nepalese about the government guidelines.

The charity runs free weekly fitness classes for older people in Hayes. Every week between 40-45 beneficiaries attend the session which was initially organised to encourage the older beneficiaries to come out of isolation and interact socially.

Bhim also formed a relationship with Imperial College London (ICL) and has successfully supervised a group of BSc global health students as part of their Community Group Placement (CGP) for the last two consecutive years. Bhim is planning to expand the placement opportunities to nursing and social work students. To enable all these activities, he raised funds for the charity via Facebook and JustGiving.

Bhim is an exceptional and inspiring social leader, and the Division of Social Work wishes him well in his future efforts.