Speaking to Shabnam Sabir now, it is hard to believe that as a girl growing up in East Oxford she was, in her words, 'very quiet' or ‘super shy’.

Now a 44-year-old sixth form co-ordinator and volunteer extraordinaire – as newly recognised with a British Empire Medal (BEM) – she is passionate, confident, driven and certainly a talker.

Nursing a hot chocolate at a coffee shop in Templar Square, Cowley, where she works at EMBS College, she recalls: “I was the quietest member in the household, the anti-social one – never went out or to people’s houses.

“A lot of people don’t believe that.”

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The second eldest of five siblings, she often helped out at a well-known fabric shop on Cowley Road run by her parents.

“Even if I was in the shop I would be very quiet... I was the non-existent sibling. I would be upstairs in my room reading books,” she says, looking a touch sheepish.

Ms Sabir, who now lives in Headington, is well known in the city for her involvement in a variety of community projects and her work as an educator.

Oxford Mail:

A geography teacher by trade, the Urdu and Punjabi speaker has been a private tutor, youth activity leader for Oxford City Council and organiser of the hugely popular Oxford Eid Extravaganza.

She also volunteers for Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity and set up The 2016 Grand Iftar, a tuition club and a Kidz Klub.

But it is perhaps her work on homelessness that is most prominent. Combined with services to young people, it saw her awarded in the new year’s honours list and her name on the front page of a national newspaper.

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The mum-of-four, who says her family are ‘very proud’, has finally decided who to take with her to Buckingham Palace to receive the BEM – and it is going to be her mother.

That, she says, is partly down to her parents having to ‘put up with a lot’ in her late teens and early 20s. Back then, Ms Sabir’s life was certainly not as fulfilling as it now appears to be.

Aged 18, she ‘hesitantly agreed’ to an arranged marriage, ‘to please her parents’. It ended four years later.

Looking back on ‘extremely difficult and challenging times’, she explains: “I have struggled in my personal life because I’ve made decisions against my heart and they’ve always backfired.

“So the moral is, listen to your heart: if it feels right, go for it. If it doesn’t, be strong enough to resist. I wasn’t strong once upon a time, but now I am.”

Yet the period appears to have given Ms Sabir new perspective and motivation to help young Muslim girls to succeed.

Oxford Mail:

“It was massively intense but I think maybe all of those intensities is what has made me stronger,” she reflects.

“I have changed to a point where now people see me as really strong – I’ve just gone out and done everything which I felt I wasn’t allowed to do.”

In completing her degree, she did one year at Westminster College and Oxford Brookes and Reading universities each, before later taking a PGCE.

She then took a job at Isis Middle School – now Iffley Academy – which was the start of 19 years working in education.

It was only in 2015, though, that she set up Oxford Homeless Project, which still sees a team of volunteers provide a fortnightly lunch at East Oxford’s Asian Cultural Centre.

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Ms Sabir explains: “Come Ramadan, I am always teaching kids that you need to be the best person you can. We have all these extravagant meals and then a lot of it goes to waste, so I thought ‘why are we making all this food, surely somebody can eat it?’

“I went into town myself one day and met some homeless people and said: ‘I’ve got all this food, would you possibly like some?’

“Their eyes lit up. Just seeing how happy it made them, I just thought: ‘why are we not doing this more often?’

“That was the moment.”

Oxford Mail:

For the remainder of Ramadan, Ms Sabir picked up leftover food from friends and family every evening, and delivered it to the homeless, before later formalising the project.Three years on, it feeds around 50 homeless people (though numbers vary) every fortnight, with about a dozen volunteers helping out.

Asked what she does outside of work, teaching and volunteering, she appears – for once – lost for words – but only momentarily.

The British Pakistani Muslim says her faith is important to her, but eventually names movies, travel, walking and nature as her hobbies – all of which she likes doing with family.

But her friend the city councillor Shaista Aziz explains cheekily: “Shabnam’s mischievous and loves chocolate cake and is always on the hunt for a dessert to satisfy her sweet tooth - but pretends she isn’t.”

Ms Aziz adds: “She is compassionate and cares deeply about people, she connects in a very deep and personal way but she really comes alive around children and young people.

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“The vast majority of people rough sleeping know her. They have no reason to trust anyone and yet they trust Shabnam.”

It is difficult to find anyone with something bad to say about Ms Sabir and most of what she has to say herself is uplifting.

But on homelessness, there’s more than a flicker of anger, which it is clear motivates her work.

“It is down to politics,” she says bluntly.

“If your priority is not those people that are suffering, you are not going to invest any time and effort in them. Our politics is all about the roads and the streets and the smaller things which are not important. You can say ‘we’ve got rid of all the potholes in Cowley’, but at the same time you’ve got people dying on the street.”

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Of the national problem she is also damning: “We are not treating them (homeless people or refugees) as human beings just because they’re weak and vulnerable.

“I think it’s a lack of compassion at the top level – Theresa May has probably got a heart of stone.

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"I don’t think its down to money, we’ve got money, we just choose not to spend it.

“For me this kind of politics is wrong.”

She’s unlikely to ever be shy or quiet about this issue and implores ordinary people to take note: “Speak to a homeless person… speak to a refugee and listen to their story. These are human beings who deserve to have a life like the rest of us.”