Preston’s Gujarat Hindu Society celebrates a golden milestone this year.
It is half a century since the society was established and it has received Heritage Lottery Fund support to help mark the special anniversary.
The aptly named Golden Milestone Lottery funded project is tracing the remarkable history of the society from its early days in Glover Street to the development of its £4m city temple and community centre.
Society President Ishwer Tailor is inviting anyone who has taken part in activities at the centre, attended functions or taken photos there, to share them to help document the development of what is now very much a local and national landmark.
The Hindu temple and centre on South Meadow Lane is used as a focus of worship by the Hindu community, but also used by local community and other groups for events and activities.
The Temple itself is an imposing sight with magnificent carved pillars inside and out and devotional art works from India adorning its interior walls and ceiling.
The society grew from small beginnings when members of the Gujarat Hindu community located in the town decided to form a society.
Some had arrived in the early 1960s to work in cotton mills. There were about 80 families from Gujarat and initially they met in the home of one of its members on Glover Street.
The community celebrated Hindu festivals by hiring venues such as the town hall, schools and leisure centres.
By the 1970s the Hindu community had expanded, with newcomers arriving from Kenya and Uganda and by the end of the 1970s the Society comprised some 400 families.
The search then began for an affordable building where they could meet and the rest is history.
Eventually funds were raised to purchase the former St Stephen’s school on South Meadow Lane, which had been vacated when a new primary school was built nearby.
The Society had just £900 and the building cost £17,100 with an extra £5,000 needed for refurbishment. Five trustees from the society put up their own homes as security to gain a mortgage on the property, which was purchased in February 1975.
Then 100 volunteers helped restore and renovate the old school and it was officially opened in August that year. It was only the third building in the UK with dedicated facilities for Hindu prayer and 3,000 people from all over the UK attended the two day opening ceremony.
Meanwhile the Society was taking an increasing role in Preston life - entering floats in the last three Preston Guilds.
Ishwer said: “We entered floats in the Guild because we felt we were part of the Preston community and we want to belong to Preston. We wanted to be known as Prestonians rather than as Gujarati Indians.”
The Prayer Hall was renovated in 1978 and £1,100 raised for cyclone relief. In 1981 HRH the Prince of Wales visited to open an extension - the Gita Hall for Gujarati language teaching.
In November 1997 it was time for more redevelopment work and a grant of £1.64m from the Millennium Commission was secured towards the ambitious £3.28m project. The society moved again, to a temporary location on West Cliff, while work was carried out.
The Commission had encouraged the Society to incorporate significant Eastern architectural features to ensure the building itself became a legacy for the millennium.
Pillars and sacred paintings were made in India, an Indian architect employed and Indian sculptors and artists commissioned for the Temple..
Society President Ishwer has been there from the early days after arriving in Preston in 1966.
An early photograph shows him working with a team of volunteers in 1974 to renovate the old School.
He is looking forward to the completion of the Golden Milestone Project. He said: “We wanted to capture our journey of the last 50 years so it could be a legacy for our younger generation and capture the moments of early effort - how families came together and how it grew from £900 to a £4m project, supported not only by people in Preston but from all over the UK.”
For Temple volunteers Tara Patel and Urmila Solanki the Temple and Centre is a key part of their lives. Urmila said: “You come to worship here. You get more energy from coming here and you get a blessing from God and leave all your worries.”
Tara agreed: “You meet all your friends, We have a luncheon club twice a week and 50 to 60 older people come and we cook for them. We get visitors every day from schools and we welcome anybody here. It’s 37 years since I came here.”
• All society members will be invited to a special celebration in May .