He could not speak English when he moved to the region at the age of 14, but Nas Khan is now one of its top businessmen, who has built a village for flood victims in Pakistan. He tells Lucy Richardson how the North-East has shaped him
HANDING over the keys for a home to a widow who had seven daughters to support was one of the most emotional moments of Nas Khan’s life.
After raising £120,000 to create a sustainable village with 60 homes in Pakistan, he is now planning to build the community a health centre.
The first time he visit Emaan village, named after his charity, The Emaan Foundation, there were 7,000 hopefuls for only 40 small properties.
It is incredibly humbling to go back,” he says. “The mother I gave the first key to was saying, ‘Why are you doing this for us?’ and I was crying. I just said, ‘because I want to and because I can’.”
Although Nas grew up in the same country, it was thousands of miles away from where the natural disaster occurred in 2010, but he is aware that his own humble beginnings could have taken a different course if his father had not tried to better their lives.
“Although he was quite highly educated, he came across to Middlesbrough probably not legally, and worked many jobs as a labourer at British Steel while supporting his family back home,” he explains.
“Back then, if you managed to stay in the UK without becoming a burden on the Government for five years, you could apply for permanent residency, and that’s what he did.”
When his father was able to bring his family over five years later, Mr and Mrs Khan and their six children lived in one room in a friend’s house in Woodlands Road, Middlesbrough.
“It was hard, really hard, but it also made us very close as a family. My mother is my inspiration,” Nas says, close to tears.
Now a father of four with three grandchildren, he became a “great-grandfather” during our interview when his wife called him excitedly to say their peahen’s three eggs had hatched.
The perishing cold and the terror of getting lost are the stand-out memories of his miserable early days in the town. He will freely admit that he hated his first isolating year on Teesside.
“I was frightened of going to school on the bus in case I got off at the wrong stop and then couldn’t get home, and I missed my friends,” he says.
“Even watching television wasn’t enjoyable in a language I couldn’t understand, apart from cartoons, which were easier to follow. I would cry myself to sleep.”
Despite the initial language barrier, his father’s determination for his children to succeed led to Nas going to university and graduating as an accountant, but after years of studying he asked his family to let him try something different for 12 months.
“I’ve always been an outgoing type of person, so I applied for a job as a car salesman with Jennings, and I’ve never looked back.”
Now 54, he owns the motor group which has Ford, Mazda and Seat dealerships across the North-East and boasted a 17.35 per cent rise in turnover for past year to just over £145.8m, from £124.3m.
Nas says he has no expansion plans but reveals the car sales climate is buoyant. “The market is back, the market is definitely recovering.
We are having a much better time of it than we did two or three years ago.
“Those who are in a job are doing well and those who don’t have jobs are finding things difficult.”
WHEN an earthquake struck in Pakistan in 2009, Nas travelled with his father, who does humanitarian work in remote parts of the country, to see what they could do to help.
“It really affected me,” he recalls. “I saw lots of children wandering the streets looking for their parents. It’s a poor country, under-developed, and when something happens there’s no safety net.
“We came across a girl who was seven or eight who had been wandering the streets for several days.
“So there and then I decided to set up an orphanage and then a charity after the devastating floods in 2010,” he says.
According to Pakistani government data, the floods directly affected about 20 million people, with a death toll of close to 2,000.
As well as fulfilling his vision of create a new village for devastated families in Rahim Yar Khan, south of Punjab, he sourced thousands of water-purifying “Life Straws”.
They were distributed to victims through aid organisation Human Appeal, which recently presented Nas with a humanitarian award.
“I have always been ambitious, but would I have achieved as much if I hadn’t left Pakistan?
Probably not. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, if those are the circumstances it’s very difficult to change them.
Luckily I was able to come here.
“People say all sorts of things about Stockton and Middlesbrough, but in the North, and especially in the North-East, we are warm and friendly and courteous to people.
“We have been through difficult times, we depended too much on industries like British Steel and ICI, but it does not make us bad people. I would not live anywhere else.”