The Birmingham and the Black Country Sikh Migration story continues as the project celebrated the touring exhibition’s new location at the University of Wolverhampton

The touring exhibition, which was first launched at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in July this year, will also visit four other locations, including the Nishkam Centre, Dudley Library and Sandwell Community History and Archives.

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, details the journeys and contributions made by the Sikh community in Birmingham and the Black Country. It includes more than 30 video interviews conducted with migrants spanning several generations, an educational toolkit for schools, a comprehensive website and legacy-resource that will be deposited in the Library of Birmingham and Sandwell Archives.

Jasbir Uppal, Lecturer and Head of Recruitment and Marketing at the University of Wolverhampton, as well as a Project Steering Group member, opened the launch, welcoming all the guests to the University and introducing the project. He spoke about the ‘rich Sikh heritage in Wolverhampton’, their ‘extraordinary’ journey and the importance of recording the ‘strife, struggles, and their successes.’

An Ardas (prayer) was conducted and led by Giani Shyam Singh, evoking the Lord’s blessings and continued guidance.

Munpreet Kaur, Project Coordinator, spoke about the project’s goals, and the urgency of capturing these stories: ‘Because of the time limit, it is important that we capture first-hand accounts from Sikhs’. Munpreet also called upon the guests to contribute and help towards the project’s success: ‘There is still so much to do, and we request more volunteers to be part of this effort – record your family story, help us find the patterns and the big picture. Help us hold on to the teachings of our elders, like Mr Sewa Singh Mandla [the project’s oldest participant (Mandla v Lee Case) who recently passed away] before they are lost to us forever. I think it’s our duty to connect with our roots and not to forget where we are today is a testament to their work, their sacrifice and their love for us’.

Surjeet Singh Sandhu, a participant who recorded an oral history interview for the project, recalled his childhood in Punjab in the mid-1960s. Now a senior design engineer, he spoke of his amazement at being from ‘a poor family, unknown village’ with no shoes until the age of 12 years old, but yet after arriving in the UK managed to give back substantially to the community in his adult life.

Gurmail Kaur, another contributor to the project, spoke about her participation in the project, and about her story. She spoke of the need for the younger generations to learn from the narratives: ‘they need to look back and appreciate how hard it was for their parents.’ She recounted her memories of arriving in England aged nine, with her mother and siblings. ‘As a child, this is what I remember.’

Surinder Singh, a Project Steering Group member, then gave a vote of thanks. He thanked the Lord for the successes of the project and reminded the audience of the hundreds of hours of volunteer service which had been invested in the project – selfless service being a key aspect of Sikh Dharam (faith).

All guests were then led to the Harrison Learning Centre (where the exhibition is located). Gurmail Kaur’s daughter and Giani Shyam Singh cut the ribbon to formally open the exhibition.

Speaking after the launch, Councillor Harbans Singh Bagri stated that the ‘project is of absolute importance, the Sikh community has also had a strong belief in faith and in the ability to do a good day’s work, and they have always respected the British system, where there is a reward, and where they will be treated as equal human beings.’

Councillor Claire Darke, who is also voluntarily involved with the Wolverhampton Civic Historical Society, stated that the exhibition was a ‘fantastic celebration of the Sikh journey’ and that ‘collecting stories is always fascinating.’

Councillor John Reynolds, stated that ‘it was really uplifting to see the contribution made by Sikhs over the years. The Sikhs contributed massively back then and they are still contributing now.’

The exhibition will move to the Nishkam Centre in Handsworth, Birmingham, in December 2017.

For more information, please information email heritage@ncauk.org

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