History of Sussex Indian Punjabi Society (SIPS) BY BALDEV SONI
The story of SIPS or Punjabi’s in Brighton and Sussex goes back a long way. In 1970 when I came to Brighton, there was a community group called Asian Circle. It was mainly supported by Gujarati’s, Punjabi’s , Chinese and some Bangladeshi’s and Iranians. We used to organise Bollywood film shows once a month and get together couple of times a year including Diwali celebrations.
The Asian Circle lasted until about 1978 when infighting among communities started and the Circle withered away.
During the same period there was another group called Parosi (means neighbour in Hindi). Parosi was a BBC programme to teach English to new arrivals in UK in order that they may assimilate and communicate with the host community. Mr Karamjeet Gill (now Dr Gill) and I began organising classes for mainly women who could not speak English. Most of the teachers were English women and they used to visit houses to give one to one tuition on a voluntary basis. This became very popular both with the volunteers and the ethnic community. More and more nationalities got involved and it was agreed that once a month we would have a get-together at Friends Centre, who gave their premises free of charge. All women learners would cook food and bring to the party to thank the host community teachers for their help. These get togethers became very popular and lot of people not involved in the project used to come to taste free food cooked authentically be the women. After about six years the project faded away.
During the period 1970 to 1985 there were very few Punjabi’s in Greater Brighton (Worthing to Seaford) area. The Soni clan living in the area was growing and was 29 strong by 1985. Soni family used to meet regularly and invite other friends to celebrate children’s birthdays, Diwali etc. As the group got bigger and bigger we began these get together in church halls or other suitable cheap venues. The main aim was to get together and let children know our culture. Families brought food and drinks and we shared each-others food. All cost used to be met by voluntary contributions or a raffle. I would book the hall and word would go out, women would contact each other and decide the menu etc. We were very lucky to continue doing all these activities on a voluntary basis as we did not make any admission charges. This was a great success. All friends were welcome. It was great fun and slowly our group got bigger and better.
We even introduced Hindi classes for children and held Bollywood dance classes. Hindi classes were not very successful as children were not interested to travel long distances on Sundays to attend. However, our Diwali meetings became very popular as children were performing Bollywood dances including Kwalies and plays. This sort of arrangement continued until around 1997. As the meetings were becoming very successful, there was general agreement that we should hire bigger premises and start charging to pay for food, drinks and rent. This is the period when the name Sussex Indian Punjabi Society – SIPS for short – came into being. This name is bit of a misnoma as we welcome all nationalities to our functions, although our aim is to promote Punjabi food and culture.
The demand for our functions was so great mainly due to fantastic Punjabi food and dances to Hindi and Punjabi songs. We could not accommodate everyone wishing to come and celebrate. As our aim was to keep admission charges as low as possible so that as many Indian families as possible may attend We could not take the risk of hiring larger premises. In 2013 we took a big step to hire Hove Town Hall so that more people could celebrate and take part in our culture.