A MAJOR renovation project is about to take place in the heart of Sunderland’s Sikh community.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds needs to be spent on the Grade II-listed Christchurch in Ashbrooke.
The former church was taken over by the Sikh community in 2000, after lying empty for about four years.
Now, it needs a £200,000 makeover, to repair its 40metre spire and carry out other improvements.
Eventually it is hoped to relocate the gurdwara, or temple, from the grounds of the church to inside the building itself.
English Heritage has agreed to pay half the repair bill, while worshippers will raise the rest.
Surveys are being carried out to see how much work needs to be done.
Manjit Cheema, president of Sunderland Sikh Association, said: “The community is very committed to this and it will become the biggest temple in the area.
“It means a better future for Sunderland.”
The project is expected to be finished by next year. Mr Cheema stressed that anyone was welcome to visit the temple and free community kitchen, providing they obeyed by his religion’s requirements, which means covering their heads, washing their hands and removing shoes to go into the temple and not being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
He hit out at right-wing groups which have been campaigning in Sunderland over the past weeks.
“Sunderland does not need to listen to them,” he said, “Religions are not bad. People are bad. Everybody needs to work together.”
Worldwide, there are 25.8million Sikhs, about 75 per cent of which live in the Punjab.
They are forbidden from cutting their hair, eating ritually-killed meat and also do not believe in fasting, wearing a veil for women or living as a monk for men.
Baptised Sikhs are given the last name Singh, meaning lion, for men and Kaur or lioness/princess for women.