Walk into a restaurant, bar or shop on any high street across the country and there’s a good chance Yorkshireman Imran Akram was involved in its design. The award-winning architect is one of the few from an ethnic minority background and has worked on some of the biggest names in business including Burberry, Butlins and Lego. ANILA BAIG met him.

Growing up in Keighley, the youngest of seven children, Imran could always be found with a pencil or crayon in his hand.

“My mum would tell me that everyone would be watching television and I would be doing some colouring in. I was creative from a very early age.”

He was a bright pupil but the only time he really engaged in subjects like maths and English was when creative flair needed.

“If we were doing something in English about treasure islands and pirates I would make a map soaking the paper with tea bags to dye it to make it look authentic. I was always thinking about textures and effects.”

Being the youngest in the family meant that he was indulged and never short of any art supplies.

“My family didn’t really understand my obsession and I didn’t have any role models or guidance in that respect. But they were very supportive and bought me whatever I needed and always took me to any exhibitions I wanted to go to.”

He completed his GCSEs at Greenhead Grammar School and then studied for a GNVQ in Art and Design in Leeds.

“This gave me a better understand of what I wanted to study.”

Imran knew that it had to be in the creative field but having no Asian role models and no idea about how it could lead to a career was frustrating.

Back in 2012 a report published in the Architects Journal revealed that the field is overwhelmingly white with just 2.5per cent of the profession hailing from ethnic backgrounds.

“People around me were expecting me to go into work or if I was to study it should be for a career in medicine or law.”

He stuck to his guns and enrolled at Huddersfield University to study Interior Architecture.

For his final year degree show he chose to adapt a brand new technique called SketchUp 3D.

“It’s a very stylised technique and we had only been taught this software in our final year so it was a bit of a gamble to use it for my end-of- year show.”

The gamble paid off. Not only did he win the External Examiner’s Prize for the best degree show he impressed bosses from visiting architect firm, Carey Jones, who offered him a job on the spot.

At the age of just 22 he was travelling the country working on casinos, pubs and hotels.

“It was amazing to win the award and get a job so quickly. I felt a mixture of relief and pride. I always had the support of my family but I sometimes felt some negativity from the community so it was great to be able to prove them wrong.”

One of his first projects was the re-fit of the Impressions Art Gallery in Bradford’s Centenary Square.

He also worked on the flagship Debenhams store in Oxford Street.

After six months he moved to another architecture firm turning up without an appointment and asking to see the bosses.

“I literally knocked on the door and asked to be seen. They asked me if I had any examples of my work and I showed them my portfolio. Basically I had an interview on the floor of the reception area. And they were impressed and gave me a job.”

His unconventional methods paid off but how did this softly spoken lad from a conservative Asian family and a close-knit community end up boldly knocking on doors and transforming pubs and hotels up and down the country?

“It was can quite intimidating walking into a pub for the first time when you are not used to the smells, the sounds but I was a professional and went in to do a job. However, I would say that travelling after college really boosted my confidence and helped me in my work too.”

Imran spent three months after college in the USA.

“It was part of Camp America. I went on my own and stayed for three months teaching sports and design.”

He was due to stay at the home of a student from Columbia University in New York.

“But then 9/11 happened.

“I was in the eye of the storm, I saw the buildings on fire. I was only 18 and didn’t really get fazed, I didn’t realise the impact of what was happening.”

All flights were cancelled and the phone lines were down. Alone in New York and unable to contact anyone he got chatting to a man on the coach who, incredibly, let Imran stay with him.

“He was a lecturer at Brooklyn College of Law and he let me stay at his apartment.”

He cites that experience as one of the reasons he is never intimidated.

“I think my strength is that I am very laidback. I’m open minded and I take it all in my stride.”

His career has gone from strength to strength. When hit by redundancy during the recession he changed his focus to retail and worked at some of the best known brands on the high street like Burberry, Oasis and Lush Spas.

He scooped a slew of awards along the way from Best Interior Design Practice 2014 to Best Hotel Interior Design 2015 and Best Commercial Interior Design Project 2017.

He joined Fusion By Design in Leeds in 2013 and has designed holiday chalets for Butlins, boutique hotels and restaurants like Carluccio’s and MyLahore in Leeds.

Now he is moving to Bradford architects, YEME.

“I owe it to my family; my wife, Nazia has been very supportive as well as my parents who helped financially with my studies.”

Now a dad to Amelia, six, and Raafi, who is one, Imran still lives in Keighley.

He enjoys travelling and has an abundance of glamorous hobbies like snowboarding and marathon running but he also likes to support other designers from ethnic backgrounds.

He runs a social media Instagram account called ‘MipsterCool’ – a blend of Muslim Hipster- which is a community of likeminded creatives.

“We didn’t have any role models in design when I was growing up but now there are people like Anish Kapoor and the late Zaha Hadid and the fact that we have so many followers on social media shows there is a lot of interest in design out there.”