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Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 17:55 UK
Sikh and you shall find?
sikh prayers
Harbans takes time to pray in the gurudwara

According to the 2001 census, there are approximately 8,000 Sikhs in Leeds, and that number is rising.

From small beginnings, Sikhism has grown and there are now seven gurudwaras (meaning "the doorway to the Guru) in the city.

Each gurudwara (sometimes spelt gurdwara) is a focus for spirituality but also acts as a community centre.

They offer shelter, food, training and education, sporting activities as well as help and advice.

Harbans Singh Sagoo is the chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha gurudwara (GNNSJ) in Leeds. They are based on Lady Pit Lane in Beeston, and were founded in 1987. He explains a little bit about his community.

"I came to this country, along with thousands of others, in a wave of immigration in the late 1960s from Kenya. Others came from Uganda and Tanzania, where many had settled in the 1920s."

ringtons building
GNNSJ Gurudwara in the old Ringtons building in Beeston

"Post-colonial strife meant Sikhs in Africa felt uneasy about their future and many decided that the UK would provide a safe haven."

"It was this wave of immigrants that helped establish the foundations of our faith in this country. Previous Sikh immigrants, brought over in the 1940s and 1950s to work in mills and factories, were relatively small in number and lacked the education and confidence to set up Sikh organisations."

"The second wave brought many professionals like doctors and civil servants who were able to organise the infrastructure of Sikhism in Britain, so that many Sikhs could feel part of a community and not have to reject their faith and its accoutrements in a bid to fit into society."

"Outside of these two periods, Sikhs had appeared all over the UK - many students from wealthy families came to study at universities and merchant seamen sometimes decided to settle as well."

"Leeds' first gurudwara was nothing more than a terraced house in Chapeltown, but as the Sikh population increased, properties were purchased and put to good use."

"Here in Beeston we took over the old Ringtons tea factory (the Ringtons name can still be seen on the building's frontage) and through a lot of hard work, we have made this a place to worship, as well as a place to socialise."

"We offer educational facilities with classes that teach computer skills and we teach Punjabi to the children, not just so they can understand the scripture readings, but they can also obtain a GCSE (handy in today's global economy), we have indoor archery and traditional martial arts."

"There are sewing classes where fashion ideas can be swapped. Basically the gurudwara can be a very busy place, especially as we serve food to the community twice a day, 365 days a year."

"Everyone volunteers their time and skills to provide what we have here, and we are happy to help non-Sikhs, if we can. Sometimes, you feel that people may take advantage of this situation as people get to know that we always offer food to any visitors."

lunchtime in the gurudwara
Lunchtime in the gurudwara - there's always some food on the go

"We had a problem a while back with alcoholics and drug addicts, whose behaviour wasn't what we wanted in the gurudwara, so we packaged the food for them to consume off the premises. It was difficult weighing up the need for discipline and the desire to help others."

"I think the local community has realised that we want to be part of what goes on in the area. Initially, in the 1980s when we first set up here, we had trouble with vandals and kids being a nuisance."

"However we brought them inside and showed them what we're about and relations are now very good, especially between different faith groups as we believe that all religions have a truth to reveal, and we need to work together - this was especially evident after the 7/7 bombings, which had a big impact on the area."

"We cater for Sikhs outside of the area though, as economic concerns have seen people move away to places like Denby Dale, Wakefield, Morley and Dewsbury. Personally, I live in Alwoodley, but this place is my hub and I always seem to be in the car between here and home!"




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