Gurdwaras across Britain may be soon seen as part of the British heritage, according to a research project completed at the University of Leicester by researcher Dr Clare Canning.
As a recent PhD graduate Dr Canning from the University of Leicester delivered a lecture on 7th February on her specialist area of Sikh Gurdwaras in England as part of the University’s Doctoral Inaugural Lecture series, organised by the University’s Doctoral College, academics from the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities.
Dr Canning’s lecture entitled as ‘Religious heritage in transition: Sikh places of worship in England’ discussed the value of Gurdwaras in England to those who use and manage them. Focusing on narrative experiences, Dr Canning spoke about the nuanced, complex and highly contextual relationship between social and religious values and the physical fabric of a Gurdwara building, as is explored in her research, published in 2017.
Dr Canning said: “The development, character and significance of minority religious space in the 20th and 21st centuries has, until recently, been overlooked in heritage debates. In this lecture, I will discuss findings of a PhD study, completed in 2017, which considered Sikh gurdwaras in England as heritage places.
“The implications of this research relate to a need to more fully debate how a range of values and understandings of place can be acknowledged within heritage practice, ensuring the appropriate future recognition and management of perceived heritage places.”
It is believed prior to this study there was very little known about the development of Gurdwaras among non-Sikhs. The first Sikh place of worship was set up in the UK in 1908. Some Gurdwaras have been purpose-built and clad with imported Indian stone, while others occupy buildings once used as factories, warehouses, churches, synagogues, hotels, houses, garages and schools.
The first Gurdwara, the Khalsa Jatha British Isles, was formed in 1908 by a group of Sikhs studying at Cambridge University. With the financial assistance of the Maharajah of Patiala it later opened in 1913 in Shepherd’s Bush, London. For several decades later, the Sikh community of the UK remained small, and the Gurdwara served the social and religious needs of Sikhs across the country. This was the only Gurdwara in the UK until the growth of the Sikh population in the second half of the 20th century and currently there are around 300. The population of the Sikhs in the UK according to the 2011 Census is 432,429.
The Hindustan Times reported that Linda Monckton from Historic England said: “The project came about because although we knew that many Gurdwaras were re-used from existing, often historic, buildings, we needed to better understand the specific way in which gurdwaras are valued by the communities who use and look after them.
“Little was previously known about gurdwaras in this way but Clare’s project explored the everyday value of Sikh religious spaces and their continuing potential for evolution and adaptation into the 21st century. We are now considering them as important historic places and thinking about their management and protection for the future.”
Historic England is an apex adviser to the British government on the protection and management of the historic environment.