Fostering a Community full of pride with Arsalaan and Victoria
05 February 2024
As you all know, Community is not just what we do - it's who we are. And a big part of creating harmonious Communities is ensuring People from all different cultures, life experiences and opinions feel safe, empowered, and included. A great example of this beautiful diversity and acceptance is the story of our Sparkhill Pool & Leisure Centre General Manager, Arsalaan, and his Operations Manager, Victoria.
"When joining Places Leisure, I did a little LinkedIn research into the team I was inheriting. I saw that Victoria, our Ops Manager, was gay – which didn't bother me one bit. Why should it?" explained Arsalaan.
"But it did occur to me that I was a Muslim man with a beard, which can sadly sometimes come with extreme stereotypes. I did wonder how she would feel, and I hoped it wouldn't make a difference to our working relationship. Looking back at it now, I think this was probably my own insecurities rather than a reality, as it's very important to me that I properly represent my faith."
Thankfully, Arsalaan's fears couldn't be further from the truth.
“By the time Az had joined the team, I’d already been working in the leisure centre for five years. I’ve never really hidden my sexuality at work. In fact, my partner also works at the centre - so most people became aware pretty naturally. In all the years I’d worked here, I’ve never had an issue with staff or Customers. So, when Az joined, I wasn't worried,” explained Victoria.
More than a year on, and the pair have formed not only a strong working relationship, but a personal one too!
“When I started the job, I was relieved that our differences weren’t a problem. We kept it very professional at first and slowly built trust, but over time we educated each other on our Communities, "said Arsalaan.
“What I love about our relationship is that we’re open. I remember once in our Members Sales Office, we had a really honest conversation about sexuality, gender, and religion. Az asked me about my coming out story and what it was like being a gay woman. He was super supportive and wanted to understand. We then talked about my partner, who’s transgender, and spoke about pronouns, explained Victoria.
“Religion is something I’ve struggled with. I’d say I have faith, but most religions have opinions on my sexuality that put me off. As a gay person, there’s not much talk of religion in our Community. It’s something many people shun because they don’t feel accepted. Az was really good at explaining what The Qur’an says about homosexuality and how views on it are much more of a personal decision between the person and Allah. It was great to learn that there’s much more acceptance than the media sometimes portrays.
“I think we’re good at talking things through. When you only hear the opinion from one side of the conversation, you can only get one outcome, which isn’t always the best result for everyone.”
Arsalaan also has nothing but kind words to say about Victoria’s work ethic and what she brings to the team.
"This girl works in Sparkhill, a Community with a high Asian and Muslim population, and she's done more for the Community, Members and Colleagues than anyone else.
"From privatising the ladies-only gym, swim and lifeguard courses to modesty uniform and swimwear. She's been understanding to the cultural needs of our Customers, even when they're different to her own, and has inspired many of the girls that work here."
As much as Victoria has learnt by working at our Sparkhill leisure centre, she has also respectfully opened Arsalaan's eyes too.
"Victoria is my Operations Manager, but she's also my number one, my partner in crime, and my friend. You name it, and she's it for me. I spend more time in the week with her than with my family sometimes, so it's important that we get along.
“We have lots of meaningful conversations and educational talks with each other on religion, Community and what it is to be gay. I trust that she is 100% her authentic self, as I wouldn't want her to be anything other than that.
Arsalaan and Victoria's story is a very important one. It shows how People from all aspects of society can work together to provide an effortless experience for our Customers and Communities. Their ability to have open, honest, and authentic conversations with each other has fostered a healthy and respectful working environment that makes work enjoyable.
Victoria has embodied our People Promise of 'be respectful, earn respect,' adapting to the cultural differences and requirements needed by our Customers while retaining a strong sense of self. Meanwhile, Arsalaan's considerate and open managerial style has created an inclusive and welcoming environment that allows his Colleagues to 'enjoy work' without feeling the need to subdue elements of their identity.
We can all take notes from their story, and together, we can adopt an approach that allows People to feel accepted, included, and authentically show up to work every day.