Local Sikhs fulfil their temple dream for Norwich

By Dil Neiyyar
BBC Asian Network

image captionMembers of Norwich's Sikh community prepare the new temple for its opening

About 10 minutes' drive from the centre of Norwich a group of men and women are putting the finishing touches to what will be Norfolk's first Sikh gurdwara or temple.

Some of them are levelling out the gravel at the side entrance to the flat-roofed shoebox-shaped building. Others are up ladders hammering in nails. From Sunday it will be known as Gurdwara Sri Guru Ramdass Parkash.

It was a second-hand furniture shop and despite the hard work still has the look of an office block. But that is of little concern to the city's tiny Sikh community. This is their pride and joy.

"I will be very happy and all my family will be very happy," said 78-year-old Chanan Singh Suwali, President of the new temple.

His ties with the city go back a long way.

"I was the first (Asian) person here in 1954," he said.

Since then he has dreamt of having a Sikh temple in the city. Nearly 50 years on he is finally able to fulfil that dream.

"It was hard work but it's something we have wanted for a long time."

Although a second-hand furniture store is not everyone's idea of a place of worship, Mr Suwali is grateful to have got it.

"It was very hard finding a building. We looked at around 10 buildings. We more or less paid the deposit on one or two, but the neighbours objected and the council said we can't let you have a Sikh temple in that place," he said.

But here the neighbours have welcomed them with open arms, he says.

"The people around here have no problem. They are very kind and friendly. When we met each other we talk, laugh and joke.

"We say when we open the temple come round have a look and you can even have food here free of charge," he said.

There are thought to be about 100 Sikhs in Norwich and about 70 of them are related to each other. They make up the 22 families behind the temple.

image captionFurniture store converted into Norwich's first Sikh Temple

It has taken them 10 years to save up enough money to put down a deposit for a place of worship they can call their own.

"First it was £20 a month. And then we thought we won't have enough money so it went up to £25 a month.

"People made other donations. Another five or 10 pounds a month on top of that as well.

"If there were birthdays, people gave money for that. Then as the children grew up and started their own families they started giving money as well," said Mr Suwali's daughter Lakhbeer Kaur Larh, 43.

Up until now the city's Sikhs have had to hire a hall for weddings and other religious events or made a 100-mile round trip to Ipswich in the neighbouring county Suffolk. It has the only Sikh temple in East Anglia.

"It was quite a long day because they start quite early there. But we got used to it because we did it quite often," said Mrs Larh.

They bought the building in February last year and have been working on it ever since.

"It was (in) a bit (of) rough condition and it had a very large basement underneath which we have converted into loos. We have converted another part of the basement into a store room," said 78-year-old Chanan Singh Suwali.

Sunday's opening will be marked with a procession through the neighbourhood. The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, will be placed on a float and taken through the local roads.

"We are really pleased and we are really really happy that we have accomplished this. Because we have had to work really really hard to get this place and get it up and running. So Its going to be a very big day for all the Sikh community in Norwich," said Mrs Larh.

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