UK's oldest and most iconic Sikh Gurdwara goes to court to fight for survival
By Barfi Culture Team
18th July 2019

Every Wednesday and Sunday, Balvinder Kaur-Powell William and her family visit the Sikh Gurdwara in Shepherd's Bush, London. They have been going there for at least 25 years.

But that could soon come to an end for their family and many others. In fact the Gurdwara itself is worried about its future.

This morning, Thursday 18th July, the Shepherd's Bush Gurdwara, known in the community as the Central Gurdwara Khalsa Jatha, will have its representatives appear in court against the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Council. Its future is at stake.

The Gurdwara is located in an area managed by Conservative-run council, which was heavily criticised a few years ago after the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK's worst residential fire disaster. Local places of worship were at the forefront of helping survivors and their families at the time.

Last year the council started a consultation to further restrict parking in the area, partly due to the growing popularity of Westfield shopping centre. The Gurdwara's Managing Trustee Gurpreet Singh told Barfi Culture the changes would make it much harder for Sikhs and other faith congregations to attend their places of worship in the area.

"The way they [the council) have dealt with us is really, really shocking. They were supposed to ask all the faith groups about our needs but they never did," he says.

The Gurdwara is not alone in being alarmed. It has had support from the local churches, synagogue and mosque too. The faith groups are banding together to fight the council.

An iconic place of worship

"The Gurdwara is an embassy for Sikhs," Gurpreet Singh told Barfi Culture. It is the only Sikh place of worship in central London, he points out. It is also the oldest established Gurdwara in the UK with history going back to 1908. It has had a presence in the borough since 1911 and operated on its current site, on Queensdale Road in Shepherds Bush, since 1969.

In its court appeal the Gurdwara states local faith institutions have served communities for generations here. They also played a vital role during the Grenfell disaster.

Most religious institutions partially depend on donations from attendees. The Gurdwara says even a 10 – 15% reduction in attendance might make it financially non-viable.

Gurpreet Singh said he was, "worried we're going to lose an important resource, not just for the local community but for the whole Sikh community."

The legal challenge

Barfi Culture contacted the council for a response a few weeks ago for this story. At the time a spokesperson said: "When we propose changes to our streets, we listen to the concerns of the whole community."

"When we consulted on these changes, we had over 300 people get in touch, but views on the issue were evenly split. We will listen to the concerns of all parties, and hope to find a solution that works for as many people as possible and have invited local faith groups to tell us what they think in more depth. No decision has been made yet, as these conversations continue."

The spokesperson said they were open to listening to the religious groups. But was the consultation closed, we asked. "Yes," said the spokesperson. So what would be the point? There was no firm response.

"Until 18 June 2019 the five institutions had been told that that consultation was ongoing, a moratorium on the plans applied in the meantime, and that a meeting was being arranged," the Gurdwara states in its court application.

"That day, however, and just as a date for that meeting had been proposed, the institutions were told that a final decision had instead been taken."

By early July the council had already started erecting new signs about the parking changes, without any warning. The Gurdwara says it had no choice but to go to court, and has received support from other faith groups.

It applied to the courts for an injunction on the TMO (Traffic Management Order) and was successfully awarded one. Now the council is appealing against the court order. They will be in court today to hear that appeal.

"All we can do is put our faith in the Guru and hope for the best," Gurpreet Singh says. The Gurdwara has already seen a big fall in congregation since the signs went up and is worried it may be permanent. It is appealing to Sikhs to contact the local council in support.

Balvinder Kaur-Powell William, whose family have been going there for generations, told Barfi Culture: "We have elderly family members who simply cannot travel to the Gurdwara by public transport. Coming in by car is the only feasible way to travel."

"It is as if Sikhs are not welcome," she added.

In court today RBKC agreed not to enforce the restrictions until the main court hearing. The judge also said the main hearing should be before 31st October.

The win today offers temporary respite for the Gurdwara today, but the threat still remains.

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