Monday, 11 April 2016

The Bedford Langar Project

External shot of the Gurdwara.
It is, sadly, a rare and happy occasion these days when we get to hear about acts of kindness, of generosity, of humanity. We are constantly inundated with images of horror, reports of violence and acts of terror. It would be easy to throw the proverbial towel in, throw our hands in the air and declare defeat in the face of such negativity. But then along comes a reminder that all certainly isn't lost.

I had one of those very reminders recently. Over the past few months, my attention has been drawn to The Bedford Langar Project, and it piqued my interest. Aware that it was a volunteer based project providing food for the homeless, but not knowing much more, I contacted them, and asked if I could meet them, see what they do and find out why.
Other events organised by the Gurdwara.
I was put into contact with Ravi, one of the most engaging characters I have met in a long time. He invited me to attend the next session, and I eagerly agreed to a visit last Sunday.

The Bedford Langar Project is a Sikh-run project, originally developed by 9 core members 2 years ago to assist the plight of those who struggle, and they have volunteers of all races and religions, and open their doors to everyone. The first Sunday of every month sees the volunteers meet together at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, roll their sleeves up, and put together delicious dishes to be transported to the town centre and dished out.
Fundraising success.
On arrival, Ravi gave me a tour of the Gurdwara, and gave me some insight into the Sikh faith. We slipped off our shoes, covered our hair and made our way inside.
Inside the Gurdwara.
An impressive building, it's incredibly peaceful inside. Spacious but welcoming, it's decorated with various artworks depicting the struggles experienced by Sikhs over the centuries. Pleasant the subject matter may not always be, but they are rich with a history that shouldn't be forgotten.

The kitchen was emitting gorgeous smells so we naturally gravitated there quite quickly! Inside we found possibly the most pleasant group of people I have ever met. We were welcomed and greeted so warmly, everyone was willing to talk to us about what they were making, how long they had been participating in the project and why. Ravi introduced us to the volunteers, and explained more about the project itself and how it came about.
Flurry of activity in the Gurdwara's kitchen.
The kitchen in action.
Sikh's practice the act of Seva, or selfless service to humanity. Seva intends that you help others where they require it, and the Langar Project does exactly this. Langar  refers to the food and kitchen itself, which is served daily within the Gurdwara. All the food is vegetarian, and none of the ingredients used by the project are permitted to be blessed, however the food served daily in the Gurdwara is. All people, regardless of race, religion or gender are welcome (demonstrated by the 4 doors placed around the Gurdwara), and it is designed to uphold the principle of equality. Sikh's are not permitted to preach to others about their faith, but will answer any questions asked by others.
Some of the food prep.
Once our tour was complete, we were served some of the food ( it was delicious) and I had the opportunity to speak with some of the volunteers. The recurring feeling emanating from the group was that participating in the Project is no hardship, but an enjoyable opportunity to help others and benefit society. Jas, one of the women volunteering that day, said that being able to help, to witness the comfort brought to those who benefit from the food they prepare, makes her feel humbled. Others felt touched by how appreciated the whole endeavor is, and said they felt proud to be able to participate. As a group they are incredibly humble, not seeing what they do as anything particularly special, but just an enjoyable part of their life. They are a truly kind, generous group. As Ravi said, they have become a family, looking after each other as well as the wider community, and enjoying the time they spend working together. The project on average, prepares and serves around 100 at a time, an amazing feat.
The delicious food served by the project.
Once the food is cooked and packaged, it is whisked off to Church Square (or Pigeon Square as it is more commonly known) in Bedford Town Centre. Service starts at 6pm, in order to allow their clients to collect food and still have time to get to the night shelter, which closes its doors at 7pm, and the food is served in take-away boxes to aid with this. This is just another demonstration of the thoughtfulness of the entire exercise.

On arrival at the Square, clients were already gathering, waiting for service to start. As well as hot food, a selection of boxed desserts, chocolates, tea and coffee, and bottles of water were all handed out, most of which had been donated to the project. At Christmas, scarves and gloves were donated, the concern being that the group wouldn't see their regular attendees until January and were worried that they would suffer in the winter weather. Other occasions have seen boxes of biscuits, homemade baked goods and other donated food handed out.
Clients queue for the food prepared by the volunteers.
It isn't just the draw of food and a hot beverage that encourages so many to attend these events. As one of the volunteers stated, this might be the first time in days that some of these people have spoken to another person. Such is the plight of those who find themselves fighting through hardship, they see themselves becoming invisible to society. We can all be so wrapped up in our daily goings-on that we scurry past, not thinking just how much a passing hello or a friendly smile can help. The Bedford Langar Project provides respite from this, even if only for a short while. Volunteers laugh and joke with their clients, they ask after them and show an interest. They demonstrate care and affection where others would simply walk past, and they really do care.
The volunteers ready for action.
My afternoon spent with the volunteers of the Langar Project was truly eye-opening. It is a word used regularly throughout this piece, but it was extremely humbling. I feel incredibly lucky to have met such a wonderful group of people, and would like to thank them for affording me the opportunity to witness them in action. It was a wonderful experience, and the work being done by them is fantastic. They welcome everyone to participate, so if you would like to volunteer, I encourage you to do so. You have the opportunity to make somebody's day a little brighter, take it! You can contact the project on their Facebook page here - for more information. I'm going to be back there next month, I hope I see some of you there!


  1. The Bedford Langar Project11 April 2016 at 17:10

    It's was an absolute pleasure to have you spend the afternoon and evening with us. Thank you for joining us and for your kind words. We all look forward to seeing you soon Lilly

  2. Great post about a brilliant project.

  3. Great post about a brilliant project.