KAMRAN Ghafoor is a man on a mission: to help transform Oldham into the best place in the country in which to live.
The 42-year-old entrepreneur and businessman is a visionary and he has the drive and ambition to turn his ideals and dreams into reality.
And his home town of Oldham – “I was born and bred here” – will be the major beneficiary.
Speaking from his latest business venture, the £500,000-plus redevelopment of one of the town centre´s most iconic buildings, he told Business Edge: “I have always believed in Oldham and I always have believed in Oldham people and their hard- work ethic.
“This is my town and I’m going to do everything in my power to make it the best place to live in the country.”
As a statement of intent that is pretty powerful.
And Kamran is more than a man of words, he is a man of considerable deeds.
His property development business, KKI Investments Ltd. has poured £580,000 into purchasing and developing the former Greaves Arms building in Church Terrace.
Standing majestically in front of the Parish Church, overlooking the Oldham war memorial, the one-time popular public house building was in danger of falling into disrepair.
Oldham Council recognised the importance of the site and the building, overlooking, as it does, the transformed Parliament Square and former town hall, and stepped in several years ago to purchase the property. Council leaders set about finding a developer to match their ambition for a building that has occupied a prominent position at the top of Yorkshire Street since 1925.
Closed since 2014, the building is now back in full use, with a Punjabi cuisine restaurant on the ground floor, a wedding venue at level one and the top floor converted to apartments.
Many jobs have been created, plus of course the economic boost provided by the transformational construction work, but family man Mr Ghafoor remains frustrated by the criticism his venture has attracted on social media.
“People look at the restaurant and think – and in some cases post online – ´Oh, another Asian restaurant´ – but this isn´t the case at all.
“Cafe East is a totally different offer to anything else in Oldham. The main offer is a genuine Punjabi cuisine, with authentic spices, and we will be open from 8am to 11pm seven days a week.
“This is a new concept. We will also offer English breakfasts, paninis, burgers, pasta and steak dishes. This will be a significant boost to the town centre economy and to the Oldham´s night-time economy.”
The restaurant will have a professional kitchen team led by Afruj Choudhary and the general manager is Valeed Asif, who has an extensive background in running restaurants.
Mr Ghafoor remains rightly proud of his contribution to the economic resurgence of the town centre – witness his purchase of and transformation of much of the property on King Street – coming as he does from a humble background on the Coppice.
His father Abdul came to Oldham from Kashmir in 1966 at the age of 14 to work locally in he mills. His parents married and established a manufacturing business in the garment industry.
Mr Ghafoor credits his father´s drive, determination and ambition with his own fierce desire to succeed. The family business crashed in the late 80s but the young Kamran refused to be beaten and travelled the North-West and Midlands working the markets as an eager-to-learn teenager.
Ever the entrepreneur, he would buy items of clothing and sell these to his school friends. “Even the teachers were customers,” he recalled with a chuckle and the smile that is never far from his lips.
“Some people dubbed me the Del Boy of Oldham, I was always trying to make a little extra, even when I went to study information technology at Nottingham University,” he added.
It was during this period that the restless young Kamran suffered his first setback. “The video industry was taking off and I invested heavily in a rental shop, but it failed miserably. It wasn´t done right but I learned a lot.”
He left Nottingham, was accepted at Salford University where he completed his degree, and later his Masters, and was soon back in business.
Borrowing £16,000 from an uncle he took on and petrol station franchise in Featherstall Road North and repaid the loan in 14 weeks.
“That was a gamble,” he admitted, adding: “After I graduated I was offered a £50,000 annual salary with Accenture in London, with a £10,000 joining bonus. I thought that if Accenture believed I worth a £60,000 investment that I should believe in myself.”
He did, and has never looked back.
In addition to his transformation of the Kings Hall and the former Whittles music venue in King Street, Mr Ghafoor has property interests in the buy-to-let market accrued over many years and his latest venture is the £380,000 purchase of the former Methodist Chapel in Honeywell Lane, Hathershaw.
He has plans to create 40 apartments in the 93-year-old building at the junction of Emma Street.
Having spoken at length with this restless man, I do not believe he is even close to realising his ambitions for his home town.
As a proud Oldhamer myself, my parents were also born and bred in Oldham and ran businesses in the town, I find it extremely sad that some individuals criticise, albeit on the faceless, unaccountable forum of ´social media´ men like Karman Ghafoor who are investing time, effort and a considerable amount of capital to improve our town.
I hope I speak on behalf of the vast majority of Oldham folk when I say to Kamran long may your success continue.