Despite the fact she only moved to Newport from Singapore in 2004, Shereen Williams was recently awarded an MBE for community service. ANGHARAD WILLIAMS found out more about her story

“I WAS BORN on December 19, 1982 in Singapore.

I come from a massive family, I have three younger brothers but my mum has eight siblings and my dad has about 20 or 30 siblings, which includes half-siblings.

I had a lovely upbringing and were well provided for by parents.

My dad Aziz had his own security firm and my mum Saidah is a senior civil servant.

A man brought me to Wales, as all great love stories start.

I was at university in Singapore studying finance and spent six months in Denmark at the Copenhagen Business School. The plan was to meet my mum and a family friend in London after I finished studying and we would travel around Europe.

I had a month to kill and my mum said I should visit my aunt in Swansea, so I went and stayed with my cousin and ended up meeting my husband Owain.

A short while after, he proposed. It was a bit of a whirlwind romance and we got married 11 months after the day we met.

He’s a Swansea boy so we suffered through a long-distance relationship while I finished my last year of university in Singapore.

Premier League football is really big in Singapore and everyone knows Ryan Giggs and that he was Welsh, so when I told my family members where Owain was from I would say that he’s from the same country as Ryan Giggs.

I was 22 years old when we were married in 2005. It was the day before my last exams.

We had a registry ceremony, with 100 members of close family.

We then had a Singaporean wedding a month later which was over two days and was attended by about 1,000 people, which is actually quite small compared to some of my cousins. They had more than 3,000 people at theirs.

One week later I received my UK visa and I moved to Swansea.

We were there for a few months and then moved to Newport because my husband got a job in Bristol and it was convenient for the commute.

As a city girl, when I first moved to Wales I found it a big change. I am used to a very hectic city life, Singapore is a city that never sleep. I would go out to eat with my friends at two in the morning and not have to worry about somewhere being open.

When I first moved here I asked my husband ‘what if you’re hungry at 11pm, where do you go?’ ‘To the kitchen’, he replied.

I was looking for work in accounting, and while I was looking I started volunteering as a way of meeting people. Then I realised I really enjoyed it.

I began volunteering after the 7/7 terror attack to organise an event in Swansea.

The Ethnic Youth Support Team for Wales also needed a treasurer and my husband told them about me.

I then got my first job working here a project run by the National Museum.

I went on maternity for my first child Iesu in 2009 and the thought of commuting from Newport to Swansea when I returned would be a bit much. A post was advertised that I thought it sounded interesting and I decided to apply.

I am still working as the regional community cohesion coordinator for Newport City Council and Monmouthshire County Council today. I enjoy my work.

I’m involved in work attempting to prevent violent extremism, and I train up frontline staff. I also go into schools to talk about combating extremism in our communities.

It can be challenging because we live in a time when there can be lots of community tension.

Part of my work is to challenge the mis-information available on social media.

I also do some work for the Henna Foundation, which works to advance the needs, concerns and aspirations of Muslim women, children and families. This involves working with families around issues such as honour based violence, domestic abuse and forced marriage.

I am part of the Muslim community and the work can be unpopular with some people.

It is often seen as interfering into people’s personal lives.

There are issues out there but in the past ten years people have become a lot more willing to ask for help.

One of my most memorable moments was working with a young woman in Cardiff who was forced into marriage. If you saw her wedding photos it looked as though she was at a funeral.

She was suffering emotional abuse. I was working with the court to get her marriage annulled and doing it discreetly so her family wouldn’t find out and then working with the UK Border Agency to make sure that when the guy applied for his residency visa that it was rejected.

It took over a year to work with her to get her to the point where she was ready to do it.

She was living at home with her parents and she didn’t want to hurt her family. She needed to do it in such a way that it didn’t destroy her relationship with them.

She is now happily married and a few months ago she sent me a photo of her baby scan.

I got quite teary eyed when I saw that because I thought if I hadn’t helped she wouldn’t have this.

I have a three-year-old son called Selys, as well as Iesu, who is now eight.

It can be exhausting, but I have a very supportive husband and I am very lucky to get a lot of support from the people I work with.

At the end of 2015, I received a letter from the Cabinet Office saying they were considering me for an MBE. But as I am not a British citizen, the Queen can’t just honour me. Permission had to be sought from my home country.

I still don’t know who nominated me, but I was included in the Queen’s Special Honours this year. I was awarded an MBE for services to community service in Wales.

It seems like we have been celebrating it for a long time because we had a celebration when it was announced and my colleagues have been teasing me mercilessly about it.

They have been doing things like standing up when I come into a room, but it’s all in good fun.

It’s still a bit weird, but I won’t be using MBE after my name. It’s all a bit surreal. I received the award at a ceremony at Newport’s Civic Centre on November 29. I didn’t really know what to expect.

My award was presented by the mayor of Newport, Cllr David Fouweather, and the Lord Lieutenant of Gwent, Brigadier Robert Aitken, CBE.

I work in the building so I got to invite my colleagues from Newport and Monmouthshire to attend and we all had tea and cake afterwards. My husband and in-laws came too.

As for the future, when you go into community activism the work never stops. It doesn’t make life any easier just because you have a couple more letters after your name.

I enjoy my work and all the friendship that comes with it and I will continue to do it.”