Susy Powlesland, a Holocaust survivor and local activist awarded an MBE for her services to the marginalised communities in Tower Hamlets, passed away earlier this week on Wednesday 13 May. She is survived by her children Helen, Stephen, Frank, foster son Ayen and their grandchildren.
Born in Vienna in 1930, she escaped Nazi-occupied Austria aged nine on the last train allowed out of the country, before settling in Tower Hamlets.
Powlesland was a community champion extraordinaire, who received a MBE in 2009 for her services to the black and ethnic minority communities of East London. She will be remembered by many for her legacy of community service, including her decades of work as a headteacher.
She was known for going above and beyond to support newly immigrated Bangladeshi children in a racially hostile environment.
One of her pupils, Ed Husain, went on to feature her in his Orwell Prize-nominated 2008 book, The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left.
‘The teachers would often visit my parents and I remember going to Ms Powlesland’s house to pick cherries in her garden. She loved her pupils so much that even her social life revolved around us,’ he writes. Husain also remembers how she, and other teachers would hold their hands as members of Neo-Nazi gangs would shout abuse at them.
She was involved in many community projects right up until her passing – many of these groups she helped establish in her seventy years of service here in Tower Hamlets.
Her work includes the Limehouse Project, which supports racially and socio-economically marginalised peoples, and in 2012 she helped run a community garden on her estate (Victoria Park Estate) which she helped found in 2012 – when she was in her 80s.
Powlesland was a Buddhist was ordained in 2003 and took on a Buddhist name, Sraddhapushpa.
She was also Chair of the Globe Community Project, a charity working towards community support and cohesion based in Bethnal Green. She remained Chair until her passing.
A survivor and fighter until the very end, she contracted and survived coronavirus; however she was left in a weakened state and passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospice earlier this week on Wednesday.
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