WEDNESDAY June 23 mark 20 years since the outbreak of the 2001 Burnley Riots. In this special report we look back on the events and legacy of two days of civil strife. Here, Burnley Borough Council leader Afrasiab Anwar MBE remembers the impact on his family and reflects on the legacy of the two days of violence.

WATCHING disturbances spread across his hometown from afar, Afrasiab Anwar knew that the fires and stone throwing did not tell the whole story.

The then gap year student who would go on to become leader of Burnley Borough Council was working in the American embassy in London when Burnley's long simmering issues sparked into violence.

As the rioting unfolded over the nights of June 23 and 24, Councillor Anwar's first thoughts were with his family, who had found themselves on the frontline.

He said: "My whole family was in the town, so we were watching the news thinking 'is everybody going to be alright?'

"It was literally on our doorstep, it was a really difficult time."

However, as alarming as the footage was, those who knew the town were well aware that the cameras were only portraying one version of events.

Councillor Anwar said: "From my point of view, the way Burnley was portrayed as a racist town, that wasn't my experience.

"I had friends from all kinds of different backgrounds."

He added: "When the disturbances took place, the BNP took advantage of that but then the town fought back."

The election of May 3 2002 saw three BNP councillors win seats on a total of 9,984 votes, while eight wards would fall to the party the following year.

The pushback against the far-right would take years of hard work by anti-racist activists.

The BNP were finally driven off the borough council in the local election of 2012 and have not returned in any elections since. 

The people of Burnley would also play their part in removing BNP leader Nick Griffin from the North West's European Parliament seat in the elections of 2014.

Councillor Anwar said: "They could see that there was no substance to what the BNP were saying and that was also where interfaith dialogue came in.

"That became a defining moment for the town."

Councillor Anwar then spent much of his subsequent career playing his part in that fightback, with Daneshouse Football Club, which proved to be key to bringing young people from different backgrounds together.

His work then led him to join Building Bridges in Burnley, an interfaith organisation founded by members of the Christian and Muslim clergy in the wake of the riots in order to promote dialogue and greater understanding between the town's communities.

In the years since, the group has provided an opportunity for members of different communities to build lasting friendships through interfaith events, discussion groups and school outreach projects. 

Councillor Anwar eventually rose to become the organisation's CEO and credits groups like Building Bridges in Burnley and Daneshouse FC with helping to foster a better and more united town.

The council leader says that he sees the impact that these organisations and the activities behind then on a daily basis.

When he meets with young people in the town today, the council leader says he is struck by just how much things have changed. 

He said: "We're not that town anymore.

"For young people, who may not have been born 20 years ago, it's not relevant but what we've got to do is not miss the signs and get complacent and let something like that happen again.

"That's the difference now, whenever we sense something like that could happen, we now have the relationships to stop it."