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Remembering Gulam Noon, the Lord Noon

GulamNoon.jpgKamlesh Patel offers an appreciation of his friend and fellow Labour Peer, Lord Noon who died last month

Lord Noon once said: “’Courage and integrity’ is my motto and has helped me throughout my life. You have to be brave, you have to be honest, and you have to keep your integrity alive. Finally, keep the spirit of charity alive.” Noon didn’t just say these words, I can vouch for the fact that he lived by them.

I first met Noon in January 2011 just weeks before he was to be introduced to the Lords and I was asked to be his mentor. As a social worker from the north of England, I thought that I would have absolutely nothing in common with this business entrepreneur from London. Yet in the few - and too short – years I came to know him, I found that we had so many ideals and beliefs in common that he became more than a colleague but a very close and dear friend.

Noon didn’t consider his wealth as a mark of success but believed that came from what he accomplished with it; and I came to understand that as great as his passion for business was, he had an even greater passion for helping others, especially those less fortunate in life, both here in the UK and in India. 

Noon never forgot his roots – he was born in a single-room house he shared with eight people on Mumbai’s crowded Mohammed Ali Road – nor his dedication to the UK, which he believed had given him his chance in life. He set up his sweet stall, Bombay Halwa, in Southall, west London, in 1972 before launching Noon Products 17 years later.

There are now thousands of people in Britain, in India and throughout the world who have benefited from his enterprise and the jobs he created. But through the worst of times, when it truly mattered, he never lost his integrity. In 1994, a fire in his factory destroyed everything and he came close to being ruined. Noon was advised to formally dismiss his employees as a way of reducing his financial liabilities. He completely rejected this advice however, and insisted on paying their weekly wages – even though none could work. Within 10 weeks, the company was able to restart; and in fact successfully expanded. 

Noon actively wanted to serve the community and work towards the betterment of others. So in 1995, with £4 million of his own money, he set up the Noon Foundation – a charitable trust. He sponsored many charities and organisations in the UK and India, including the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, the Prince’s Trust and the British Library. Not only did he provide much needed funds, but most importantly he gave his personal time, energy, advice and guidance to ensure they were successful and sustainable.  I was fortunate enough to have been to India with him and see first-hand the magnificent hospital he had built, which serves people who have nothing and are in the greatest need.  He also provided community halls, sports centres, libraries and even funded a woman’s police station.

Noon also fundamentally believed in education. His contributions ranged from funding scholarships and funding mature students to take night classes, to supporting the establishment of a number of educational centres, including The Noon Centre for Equality & Diversity in Business at the University of East London, where he was Chancellor. The Centre finally gave him the opportunity to merging his two passions in life – business and entrepreneurship, and tackling inequalities – and to create what he called his ‘big footprint’.

Finally, we were both avid cricket fans, sharing a love of the sport. He was a Surrey and England supporter (except when they were playing India!) and had a personal collection of well over 100 autographed cricket bats. Once again, he used his wealth to support the game and helped fund the establishment of the ‘India Room’ at The Oval.

When I was training to be a social worker, I was taught not to judge people, but to try and walk in another person’s shoes before making assertions. Noon spent a lifetime walking in a million people’s shoes and he was not judgmental, looking for good in everyone – although he didn’t suffer fools gladly.  In Noon I found a truly gracious and dignified man; and a good human being who lived up to his motto of courage and integrity and touched the lives of so many people through his entrepreneurial spirit, philanthropic nature and thirst for education.  We will surely miss him – I know I will.

Lord Kamlesh Patel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordKPatel

Published 26th November 2015

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