AN EAST Oxford campaigner for stronger community relations is celebrating after succeeding in a seven month-long campaign to fly a flag in the city to promote unity between people of all nationalities and backgrounds.

Oxford Mail: Cowley Road Unity Flag. Manzil Way.
Picture by Ed Nix

Amir Steve Ali designed and paid for the flag, which carries greetings and messages of peace in seven languages around a globe supported by a sea of hands of different skin tones.

He set out to fly his ‘unity flag’ from a lamp post on Cowley Road earlier this year, and urged councillors to back his efforts. However, while he says councillors ignored his campaign, the community embraced the flag after his story appeared in the Oxford Mail.

The colourful flag, which carries messages in Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Swahili, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and English, is now flying over Manzil Gardens at the heart of East Oxford, having been granted planning permission by the county council.

“It’s a message of peace and unity and a reminder that while we are all individuals, we are all the same,” says the father-of-three, who works as a waiter at the Rice Box restaurant on Cowley Road.

“I am so happy to see it flying in East Oxford after all this time. I wanted to do something to bring people together and bring a smile to people’s faces. The world is full of misunderstanding and lack of trust. If one person does something wrong, whole communities are blamed. But we are all human beings with the same blood colour and the same goals.

Oxford Mail: Flying the flag in Manzil Gardens

“There is more that unites us than divides us. We should share our love of life and celebrate together – whatever our religion, or none.”

The project has cost Mr Ali about £800, including fees for planning applications. He also had to pay for and an architect before permission could be granted. An earlier bid to fly the flag at The Plain was turned down.

“I’ve learned the hard way to do this without anyone’s help,” he said. “I’ m not a councillor or community leader, I’m just a normal person living in the real world, working and looking after my family.

“It had seemed impossible to get this flag flying in a public space. Councillors I spoke to said they’d get back to me but didn’t or just told me to contact other people. I’m sure they were very busy. But I would like to thank those people who have supported me, especially Paul Fermer, assistant highways director at the county council and Matt Mortiboy and Dave Morrell at the city council.

“It’s an achievement for all of us as we are all included on the flag.”

Oxford Mail: Amir Steve Ali with his unity flag

He added: “Being in the Oxford Mail made a big difference as that’s how people found out, and photographer Ed Nix’s pictures of the flag were magical as showed people exactly what I was doing. He’s really very talented.”

Mr Ali is a member of the Bangladeshi community and a Muslim but has previously spearheaded successful campaigns to brighten up Cowley Road for Christmas.

In 2019, he successfully campaigned for Eid lights to be left on to also celebrate the festive season and last December he paid for Cowley Road’s first Christmas tree. He said: “Cowley Road is such a special place, made up of many individuals from all over the world so I wanted to do something special for everyone.”