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Woolwich Indian Cultural Society to mark 50 years
ONE year after Massa Singh Nandra arrived in Britain he set up the Indian Cultural Society. Fifty years later, the organisation he started is still going, but relying more than ever on community support.
When a 24-year-old Massa Singh Nandra moved from his home in India to Woolwich 51 years ago, the place he arrived in bore little resemblance to the multicultural place many of us know.
Fast forward to 2013, and the area is packed with thriving Asian businesses, two Sikh temples and a support system for the Indian community - much of which owes a debt to Mr Nandra's influence.
This month, the 75-year-old will mark the 50th anniversary of the Indian Cultural Society - an organisation he helped found on December 20 in 1963 to help vulnerable members of the community settle in the borough.
He explained: "We started doing mostly cultural shows.
"There were not any other organisations like that at the time.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think it would last that long, but with help, with the community's appreciation and moral support we have reached this far.
"The achievement of the organisation is that we're still here for the benefit of the public.
"It's still here today and there's nowhere else like this in the area."
Founder member Mohan Sembi, now 76, said: "It started with about 10 or 12 people that knew each other.
"As a small community, we can only meet each other to a small place where we ask everybody to come down. We could enjoy some talk and a little bit of bhangra."
Since the 1960s, the society has occupied a Hare Street restaurant and seen funding grants come and go.
Those 50 years have even included dancing by members on TV's Generation Game and Opportunity Knocks, where they were on the same bill as Little and Large.
Mr Nandra said: "It was funded to present the Indian and Punjabi culture, for dance. When people started coming in from India and elsewhere, these domestic problems occurred."
This can involve anything from visa issues, computer use and blue badge applications.
At the same time, it runs regular yoga, dance and health classes, for which there's a waiting list among the 200 society members.
Now, tucked away in the old Woolwich town hall on Connington Street and run on an entirely voluntary basis, austerity has started to bite and the society will face new rental costs from late next year.
Volunteer William Ekinu explained they were looking to open a charity shop, applying for more grants and on the hunt for new paying members.
He said: "This place also addresses the issues of isolation.
"Some of them come here to socialise. Isolated people are prone to health problems and their lifespan can be reduced because of that.
"There's a gap that the centre is plugging in terms of what people like social services will be offering."
Mr Ekinu said: "This was the nucleus, many key figures in the Asian community came through the society.
"Most of the businesses that are now running in places like Plumstead, the key people are tied to this centre.
"It provides a way of networking and sharing."
To get in touch with the centre, open weekdays from 11am to 5pm, drop in, email email@example.com or call 020 8317 9345.
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