Alumni profile - Nabil Al-Kinani
Just because you studied something, it doesn’t mean you have to conform to the limits of your degree. I studied biomedical sciences and I work in construction and property, and one of my biggest projects delivered is in literature (Authors of the Estate: Chalkhill Edition). Don’t limit yourself.
Why did you study Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary? What sparked your interest in this specific degree and Queen Mary as a University? I felt like I understood the sciences better than any other subject I studied during my A levels and GSCEs, and I had a genuine interest in human biology rather than the biology of plants and animals. I chose Queen Mary because of its status as a high ranking, Russel Group University. A couple of my peers had gone on to study at Queen Mary and they only gave positive feedback about it so I decided I’d shoot my shot and see if I could get in.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you like learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? I’m a Northwest London boy, so for me, to travel to East London and meet a whole new group of individuals was really eye opening. I met people from all walks of life and the relationships I built during my time at Queen Mary was one of my biggest takeaways. In terms of what I studied, my course was very academic, we were studying straight from the textbook and it put what was taught during A Level and GCSE Biology into context— in relation to the intricacies and the complexities of the systems that make us who we are. Genetics was my favourite module. Have you heard of the selfish gene? I’m not going to get all philosophical on you, we’re all literally just a double helix of four amino acids. Learning what simple building blocks can create was my favourite part of the course overall.
Can you describe your career path since graduation and touch on how your partnership with André Anderson to form the book ‘Authors of the Estate’ came about? I joined Queen Mary in 2014 and in 2015 I decided to take a year out as I was dealing with a lot at the time. During my time away I came across a video on SBTV, a major social media platform popular in our London city communities. The video was a short documentary about a book called: Authors of the Estate, written by St Raphael’s Estate, which is a neighbouring social housing estate down the road from mine. So this piqued my interest and after some research, I’d learnt that the book was written by André Anderson and five other authors from his community who had come together to write about their experiences living on the St Raphael’s Estate, which they then slotted through the doors of 1,000 homes on the estate.
For me, this book challenged the perception that “writers don’t come from where I come from”. I was very inspired; it helped me get back into university. When I graduated I successfully applied for an internship with George the Poet and George had really helped shaped my morals and values growing up, so I was star struck every day I was there. During my internship we would discuss the needs of our communities, and the missing pieces that hold us back. One of the obstacles we face is the occupation and ownership of space and property. Funnily enough, at the end of my internship, I got a job offer from Quintain, a property developer who own the biggest built-to-rent development in the country— 85 acres around Wembley stadium, it was almost like fate. I’ve been working with them ever since and I’ve translated the knowledge that I’ve gained from them into everything that I do (this knowledge actually inspired my chapter in the new iteration of the Authors of the Estate book).
I also met a really good friend of mine in my new workplace called Naomi Wharton who lives down the road from me, and she happened to go to school with André. I’d mentioned the Authors of the Estate book to her and she organised a meet up with André and I. I told André that I felt like the book was one of the most important pieces of literature released that year and that I wanted to explore the possibility of doing the same on my estate, the Chalkhill Estate. And murder she wrote, we got 22 authors together from my estate and we basically did the same thing.
How did you find getting those authors, were they willing to take part or were some a bit more hesitant because like you said, usually we don’t hear from these underrepresented voices? I think our biggest obstacle in terms of our communities are the perceptions that we have of ourselves. Every time I invited someone to a writing session I was met with the same response: but I’m not a writer. I had to explain to them that you don’t have to be a writer to write, it is when you write and create your own publication that you become a writer. No one is born a writer. Just because you didn’t study an English degree, that doesn’t take away your right to penmanship. It was tough but I managed to persuade 22 of the brightest people from my estate and a lot of them were surprised by what they generated. If you read the book yourself, you will see that they have got quite a lot to say.
Why do you think it is important to give underrepresented voices the chance to be heard and documented? If we go through the journey of the book, since its release, we spoke at the #MerkyBooks pop-up in Shoreditch and at the UCA Canterbury School of Architecture. The book has also been logged in the University of London Senate Hall collection, which means that it is preserved and a part of history. Underrepresented voices need to be preserved to give an accurate account of history.
The word author makes up the word authority; when you think of leadership or the policies that were created in this country or any other country, it was all written down in black and white on a piece of paper. In today’s digital age, we forget the power of what a tangible piece of paper can actually do. So I think there needs to be an emphasis on penmanship and being able to articulate ourselves. Especially as all we do nowadays is scroll through our social media feeds, and our attention span is limited to about 5 seconds. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a fantastic platform, but taking 3-4 hours out of your week to read through someone’s experiences has a much more lasting affect than watching a 30 second video.
It also helps that we had some amazing photographs in the book shot by the amazing Abdou Cisse, who is also a faculty member of the Freedom & Balance team.
I read elsewhere that all of the writers, apart from André, live on the estate. What are some of your own experiences of living on the estate? I called my chapter Joint Enterprise after a law which indicts individuals of crimes committed by their associates even if they weren’t there or weren’t aware of it. It was a collective way to get people in jail and it would heavily target people from black communities. When you see the title of my chapter and you get thrown off because Joint Enterprise wasn’t a good thing, but working in property, I came across a legal process called Collective Enfranchisement which allows individuals to purchase the buildings that they live in. There’s two types of property ownership, leasehold which has an expiry date and freehold which makes you the ultimate owner of a building. When it comes to social housing, because we live in these piled flats, we can only purchase the lease of our flat instead of the freehold of the building so that means that ultimately we don’t own the space that we live in.
Collective Enfranchisement is the act of organising your neighbours and rallying them together to purchase the freehold of the building that they live in. For my chapter of the book, I wrote out an imaginary agenda of a quarterly meeting of what this collective would talk about with respect to a building they own— its purpose is to show people the potential of Collective Enfranchisement. For me, when you own your own space you become economically free. Collective Enfranchisement is a synonym of Joint Enterprise and it is funny how the synonym of something that was previously used to imprison us, will also set us free.
Do you have any similar projects in the pipeline? What are your ambitions going forward career wise? – How does your degree fit into your future plans? I’m spending quite a lot of time on Freedom and Balance projects, so Authors of the Estate was one project but we’re looking to roll out a lot more this year and next, focusing on similar issues. Our next curriculum: You Sound Like Your Mother, was constructed by a faculty member of the Freedom & Balance team, Andriana Lagoudes. Primarily focusing on the relationship one has with their mother. We’re always conceptualising and coming up with new ideas and we always keep our website updated. In terms of my own personal journey, I am trying to gain as much knowledge in the property field so that I can take it back to my community and share my knowledge with my community.
What has the reception of the book been like? Have you received any criticism from any residents for putting Chalkhill Estate in the spotlight? The book was entirely funded by the Freedom and Balance art college. The college focuses on creative education for everyone and Authors of the Estate is one output of that. The fact that the book was self-funded allowed for full creative liberty, there was no one in a suit watching over our shoulder asking us to edit things out. So that in itself was a powerful move because the majority of “socially responsible” or “socially aware” projects have a large funder behind them. I’m very big on not calling our work a form of charity and that is testament to what I learnt at Queen Mary. I took part in the East London Social Hack led by Queen Mary graduate Junior Ogunyemi, author of “How to be a student entrepreneur”, and he taught me that you can create a business and be socially aware, without being a charity.
This sparked something in me because every single time a project is focusing on underrepresented communities, it is usually CSR. Underrepresented communities have been trailblazers from before colonial times. The Asians had the spices and the Africans had the metals and we were on par with the rest of the world, so I feel like in this day and age we need to keep that energy— our communities really do have something to offer and we’re not just a charity or the charity project of businesses. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers and revolutionaries come from our underrepresented communities. So, in order to remove ourselves from the “charity” label, we paid for everything ourselves. We got our money back from the purchases on the day of the launch. I can’t say we’ve had any negative press or any negative reviews, at least I don’t feel like we’ve been exposed to any which is nice!
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? Queen Mary taught me to be tenacious. I was rewarded for going above and beyond, and this translates exactly the same in the workplace. Even with Authors of the Estate, it was an audacious thing to get people together in the same room.
You mentioned previously that you took part in the Queen Mary project called East London Social Hack (Social Enterprise Festival 2017). What did this project involve and what did you gain from the experience? It was a boot camp on how to form a social enterprise; in groups, we had to come up with an idea to pitch to a panel. The winners would get funding and 3 months access to working space. My group won for our idea called ‘Fiscal Fitness’, which involved teaching financial education to secondary school students. We never followed through with the idea but the exercise itself was very helpful. Keynote speakers from actual social enterprise businesses spoke us through their business models and the social impact of such models, which was really inspiring.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Just because you studied something, it doesn’t mean you have to conform to the limits of your degree. I studied biomedical sciences and I work in construction and property, and one of my biggest projects delivered is in literature. Don’t limit yourself.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? The people. The degree is good but the relationships I left with were worth the tuition fees.
- Official press release for Authors of the Estate.
- Press coverage for Authors of the Estate.
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