Video shows how communities can live side by side – printed by the QT

Later this week Newcastle’s Sikh temple – the Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha – will welcome thousands of followers who will be celebrating Vaisakhi, one of their most important festivals. 

There are only around 7,000 Sikhs living in the North East and to help local children gain a better understanding of this religion – which has more than 25m adherents worldwide – Durham County Council’s International Office has commissioned a video which will be available to all of the region’s schools.

Filming took place in the Gurdwara and in family homes and the video is the fourth in a series providing an insight into the lives and beliefs of adults and children living here and following Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

“Even though the North East has become far more multicultural, the area will benefit greatly from regional resources showing local places of worship and the views of local people,” said Veena Soni of EAL and Diversity Solutions, who has been an adviser for all four projects.

“The pandemic meant that we couldn’t go to schools and the children couldn’t visit places of worship so a video was the obvious starting point to show them the similarities and differences of other communities in our region.

“Given what’s happening in the world, I think it’s really important to show that people can live side by side.”

The videos were made by production partners Newsmaker – based in Northumberland – and 3 Point Media from Darlington.

Producer Andrew Lambert of Newsmaker said: “It’s been a real privilege to be involved in this project.  We have been made to feel welcome everywhere we’ve been and have learned so much.”

‘Sikh Darma in the North East’ shows how even young children help at the Gurdwara. “People are encouraged to take time out of their busy lives – whoever you are, young or old – and to come and serve,” said Jaswinder Singh, who is a volunteer at the Newcastle temple.

“It comes from the concept that we’re taught called Seva – selfless service – doing something without any expectation of a reward or gift at the end of it.”

Every day in the  Langa, or community kitchen, a small army prepares food, cooks and clears up as dozens of people – Sikh and non-Sikh – visit the Newcastle Gurdwara for something to eat.  They are treated equally and just asked to cover their head, remove their shoes and sit on the floor.

“If you’re hungry there’s a place where a meal can be served.  No one should ever go hungry,” said Jaswinder.  “Our job is to be hospitable, loving and caring.  We never know what somebody’s going through, what their situation is, so we always treat everyone equally – hence sitting on the floor.”

Many students visit the Langa for food and Jaswinder said it has become increasingly popular in the wider community as people struggle with the high cost of living.

A sacred banner called a Nisham Sahib is flown from a tall flag post outside each Gurdwara.  Historically, it could be seen for miles around.

“Everywhere you go people know only there’s only one place that you can go at midnight, to  get shelter, food, and help,” said grandmother Kuldip Kaur Singh, who lives in Gosforth and could not speak English when she came to the North East in the 1980s.

“There was a lot of discrimination back then and a lot of isolation for communities,” said her husband Raj.   “Things have moved a long, long way towards greater integration. People now understand a lot more about Sikhism.  It’s a very simple religion.  It’s a very inclusive religion.  It’s all about equality for us.”

You can watch the video here and it and the other three films are also available through the North East Religious Learning Resources Centre’s YouTube Channel.

The Centre’s director Karenza Passmore said: “These are very valuable and lasting resources which will greatly assist the wider discussion about community cohesion and integration.

“Tensions in society dominate the headlines but this isn’t the whole story, and these films are an important reminder of the contribution faith communities make every day. Education is key and we can learn much from each other.”