Founder member of Windsor and Maidenhead Community Forum reflects on the group's history

Founder member of Windsor and Maidenhead Community Forum reflects on the group's history

Lucy Elder

Founder member of Windsor and Maidenhead Community Forum reflects on the group's history
Karnail Pannu

As Windsor and Maidenhead Community Forum (WAMFC) prepares to celebrate its 30th birthday, one of the founder members looks back at the last three decades.

The forum is an organisation where people of all faiths can share ideas and beliefs.

Founded by Karnail Pannu, Fazan Awan, Dr Jonathan Romain, Peter Hudson and Dr Mike Bruton, the inter-faith group began life as Maidenhead Community Conservative Council (MCCC) in 1982.

Since then, it has gone on to hold conferences, music and drama, sports events, festivals and celebrations.

The group's logo shows eight faiths - Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Baha’I Faith, Buddhism and Brahma Kumaris - as the pillars holding up Maidenhead Bridge.

Karnail, who has been president of the Sikh Gurdwara in Rutland Road on and off for 20 years, spoke about how the group started.

"In 1982 we had a function called One World Religion,” he said.

"Some people read poetry, some played music, danced, and we shared food at Desborough School."

He added people from the different groups didn't know each other, so he spoke to Dr Bruton and the five founder members met and planned to set up a forum that brought people together.

Baroness Shreela Flather, former Royal Borough Mayor, was the first president of the forum, and the father-of-four said Peter Hudson provided invaluable experience.

"Peter Hudson, who was the priest at High Street Methodist Church, moved from Ilford," he said.

"He came here with a lot of experience working with different communities."

Before moving to the UK in 1967, Karnail was head of a school in India.

He has lived in Maidenhead for 47 years and taken on a huge number of roles within the community.

These including working with Thames Valley Police, Housing Solutions board and with the Royal Borough.

He has also spent time as a member of SACRE, board member for Bulmershe College and governor of Newlands Girls' School, East Berkshire College and Berkshire College of Agriculture.

"I was feeling always 'how can I help our community?’” he said.

The 77-year-old explained each decade has set different challenges.

He said the first 10 years was all about getting people to open up.

"They started listening, sharing food, music, and understanding and creating harmony," he said.

"The second decade was different. We raised awareness, we had discussions, talks and there were tensions as well, the Iraq war, troubles in Palestine."

Now nearing the end of its third decade, Karnail spoke about some of the issues affecting the world today.

"Third decade is where we have racism and radicalism, we are working on unity and peace,” he said.

"I think have succeeded to some extent. We are still worried about ISIL.

"The world has become more dangerous.”

As shocking and unsettling events have happened around the world, members have worked together to support each other.

"In those cases as a community group you try to work to keep everybody calm and engaged," he said.

One such memorable event the grandfather-of-10 remembers was the reaction to 9/11.

"Jonathan Romain, the Rabbi, went to the Mosque and said a prayer in Hebrew, and Dr Hafiz Saleem, the Imam at the mosque, he went to the synagogue and said a prayer in Arabic.

"That sort of harmony was created.”

Over the years, the group has been presented with a number of awards for its work.

Among these is the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, which the forum was presented with in 2011.

On November 22, the group will be celebrating the milestone at the Magnet Leisure Centre in Holmanleaze and reflecting on the last 30 years.

Karnail, a great-grandfather-of-one, said some things are still the same, but others have changed, such as spreading out to neighbouring communities.

"It became a wider group,” he said, adding it has opened up from a mainly Maidenhead-based group to reach out to Windsor as well.

Over the years they have set up a successful women’s group and also worked hard to get youngsters involved too.

"We started youth tournaments, soccer and netball, then we started cricket tournaments, which is an annual event now,” he said.

"This is our country, this is where we are, this is where we have got to work together."

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