Originally individuals and families came to the UK predominantly from East Africa and India back in the 1960’s. With Gujarati’s arriving to the midlands, the very first Gujarati Community group was set up in 1964 called the Gujarati Social Association consisting of the following towns: Dudley, Walsall, Wednesbury, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, with Birmingham joining a year later in 1965.
Gujarati Association of Wolverhampton (GA) was then established in 1968. Their aim was to set up a community for Gujarati people to allow them to follow their religion, culture & heritage in a foreign country. Together the community banded and supported each other, to become the foundation stone of who we are today.
At this stage Wolverhampton GA did not have its own premises so Navratri and other religious events were celebrated in local school halls, in the main Dudley Road and Graisley School, whilst the Diwali programme was celebrated at Merridale Church hall.
The then president Mr Ratilalbhai Bhikabhai Patel, who was well known in the Council, made the first successful application to Wolverhampton Metropolitan Borough Council in 1985 to build Phase 1 and then to the Governments’ Wolverhampton Task Force (a body set up by the council to support local communities) in 1988 to finance Phase 2.
Generous donations were also received from the Gujarati community in Wolverhampton in the main, as well as from neighbouring towns and cities.
The GA also organised various fundraising activities such as a sponsored walk from Wolverhampton to Dudley in 1987 which raised around £3,300.
It is also important to note that the above would not have been achievable without the support from our community led by the strong commitment of the then president, Ratilalbhai Bhikabhai Patel, his trustees Mrs Dahiben Ratilal Patel, Mr Manubhai Chhimanbhai Patel, Mr Shashikant Nathalal Patel and committee executives Mr Bhanabhai Dahyabhai Patel, Mr Jayantibhai Laxmanbhai Patel, Mr Ranchhodbhai Ravjibhai Patel.
Construction of Phase 1 of the Gujarati Centre began in 1986 with the then council leader John Bird and Mayor Bishan Dass attending the Muhurat ceremony (laying of the first brick). Phase 1 was completed and officially opened by Mayor Mrs Doreen Mildred Seiboth on Ram Navami in April 1987.
Phase 2 and Mandir was completed and officially opened on 29th October 1989 by Mr F Pickerhill, the Manager of WELD and Mr R Bates, the leader of Wolverhampton Task Force.
In 2008, to improve the security and to allow for Mander Street to become a public road, brick fencing, gates and railings surrounding the perimeter of the GA were erected. The total cost of this project was £75,000; however, Wolverhampton City Council funded a majority of this, with the GA contributing £5,000.
With our growing community there was a need to increase the capacity of the existing hall, with the long term goal of either expanding our current hall or to build a separate hall.
In 1992 the GA purchased land next to the original hall costing £51,000. Along with the generosity of donations and interest free loans from our community, the then President Mr Bhikhubhai Chhibabhai Patel also re-mortgaged an amount of his own house to cover the total outlay. Temporary buildings were then erected next to the original hall to provide additional dining facilities.
Later in 1994 further land was purchased costing £26k.
Following the AGM in September 2010, the members of the GA elected to build a separate hall to service the needs of our community as well as a means of making the facility commercially viable.
A Building Sub-committee was set up consisting of the President Nareshbhai Patel, Mineshbhai Patel, Jitubhai Patel, Kaushik Patel, Anil Patel and Pratik Patel.
In March 2012, presentation of the new building and financial summary was provided to GA members. The final plans were approved by the members along with commitment to provide financial support, however at the time it advised that funding opportunities were being investigated.
In July 2012, building permission was granted from Wolverhampton City Council and an application, supported by Conservative MP Paul Uppal and Labour Councillor Rob Marris for funding from Lotteries Commission was submitted. Sadly the application was declined, however, with the funds already held by the GA; commencement of the new building began in February 2013.
A fundraising drive has also commenced with planned events, along with selected committee members visiting families of the local Gujarati community seeking donations and/or interest free loans. From the generous donations and fundraising events held, so far a total in excess of £90,000 has been raised to date, which has exceeded expectations.
It is important to note the commitment of the Building Sub-committee and in particular Nareshbhai Patel and Minesh Patel, who on top of their own personal and work commitments project managed the entire build. This meant being on site every day to ensure construction was being completed on time and within budget.
In addition, Fatehbhai Patel also ensured that builders and contractors were able to enter the site by opening it each morning at 8am.
It’s with the complete dedication of these individuals as well as those who have supported in finalising the softer element such as aesthetics that has allowed this building to be completed exceeding all expectations.
To add the finishing touch to the building Paley Groundworks have kindly donated to cover the costs of the tarmac works which would have cost £20k +.
From the 1960’s, the number of Gujarati families in Wolverhampton has grown from 40 to now approx. 500 families today. At present our Gujarati community in Wolverhampton consider themselves one of the largest in the Black Country, making our events such as Navratri and Diwali shows popular with families from surrounding towns.
The GA is run is wholly run by volunteers since its inception and every year they pull together to put on a number events at the GA.
Since the 1990’s a number prominent visitors have graced the Gujarati Centre such as Moraribapu, Rameshbhai Ojha, Asharambapu and Claire Short MP for Labour. In addition a number of past and present Mayors, local MPs and Councillors regularly attend our Diwali Shows
Along with supporting projects to expand our facilities, our community has also played a key part raising money for charities, Bangladesh Cyclone in 1991, Bombay Bombings in 1992, Kandla Cyclone in 1998, Hurricane Orissa in 1999 and Tsunami 2005 which combined has raised in excess of £15,000.
One exceptional fund raising amount that was raised was in 2001 when the community showed solidarity with our fellow Gujarati’s in India after the Bhuj Earthquake raising in excess of £42,000. This was matched funding by the State Gujarat Government and allowed 97 new homes to be built for the villagers impacted.