Hindu festival shines spotlight on health and research in the community
Thousands of visitors enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Festival of Inspiration at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir - Europe's largest Hindu temple, in Neasden, London.
The event was a cultural celebration of the UK’s South Asian Hindu communities, running for ten days between 22-31 July 2022. There was something for everyone — delicious Indian street food, live entertainment, fascinating tours of the Temple, and much more.
Among the packed programme of activities, guests could visit the Health Hub for interactive presentations and information stands focusing on a wide range of health and well-being topics. Staff from the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) North West London and the Women’s Health Research Centre (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust) were around to spread the word about research, along with other organisations including Diabetes UK and British Heart Foundation.
Each day, the hub focused on different aspects of health, including dental care, mental health, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, women’s health and COVID-19.
Prof Mahendra Patel, Dr Nick Thomas and Prof Chris Butler are leaders in COVID-19 research in the community, delivering trials such as PANORAMIC and PRINCIPLE. They opened the hub on its COVID-19 themed day.
It’s all part of helping to reduce health inequalities and educating communities across the generations, from young, to middle-aged, to elderly.
Prof Mahendra Patel, a national lead for the PANORAMIC and PRINCIPLE trials at the University of Oxford, said:
"It is a huge privilege and honour to be here to open the COVID-19 Hub, as part of the Health Hub at the Temple, as we mark the centennial birth anniversary of the Temple's creator - His Holiness (HH) Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
"What's so uplifting is the way the community as a whole get together to promote positive health messages in terms of lifestyle, behaviour and attitudes. Through COVID-19 alone, we've all seen how people have been disproportionately affected, particularly in ethnic minority communities.
"What these amazing volunteers at the Temple are doing through their outreach work, reaching out to those very communities that we often can't reach out to with much success, is really positive and encouraging for others to learn from.
"It's actively taking the work out to the communities, promoting healthier living and helping to prevent ill-health across all age groups, as well as encouraging early and regular screening for those common diseases within these communities such as heart disease and diabetes. The BAPS Temple is a place of profound trust for Hindus and Indians throughout the UK.
"Places of worship like this can play a huge part in effectively engaging with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds about their health as well as helping us to support research to be more representative.
"What's more, is that this far reaching community outreach work is not not just limited to people of Hindu faith and Indian origin. For example, the COVID-19 vaccination programme, in partnership with the local council, is one they've been rolling out to a range of communities including the Somali community, and different places of worship such as mosques and synagogues, and all through a multidisciplinary approach and attitude.
"Places of worship know their communities better than anyone and therefore are best placed to tailor services appropriately. It’s all part of helping to reduce health inequalities and educating communities across the generations, from young, to middle-aged, to elderly. We, at the Trials Unit at Oxford are all extremely grateful to the work of Neasden Temple BAPS in supporting and helping us to raise the awareness of both our PRINCIPLE and PANORAMIC trials throughout the pandemic, and now to cap it all inviting us to be here for this very special and momentous Festival of Inspiration."
"I feel this is the beginning of a very meaningful and special relationship and one for us to build on longer term."
Prof Chris Butler, Professor of Primary Care and Director of the Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Oxford, said:
"I’ve had a fantastic day visiting the COVID Health Hub as part of the Festival of Inspiration at perhaps Europe's most influential Hindu Temple. We've seen health stands inspiring COVID-19 and other health-related initiatives and workshops run by volunteers from all backgrounds and disciplines, giving up their valuable time to serve the community in terms of supporting and promoting health and well-being. We witnessed a highly stimulating cooking demonstration where we were exposed to some easy culinary ways to make even more delicious and healthier food that was appealing to all ages.
"We learned about an NIHR funded study on latent tuberculosis, and I was impressed by all the work being done on promoting acceptance of organ donation, to name but a few. Some of our group joined in the CPR training using virtual reality - a really important source of education in these communities who are often not reached or accessed with ease.
"We also visited some of the amazing shows that were children-driven who were recognised as heroes of the future. It was again wonderful to see their enthusiasm and creativity around important aspects of social and cultural values and how community spirit were all a key part of their everyday life while having a whole lot of fun in the process.
"In addition, we were highly privileged to meet and be blessed by Pujya Yogvivek Swamiji himself, the Head Priest at the Temple, who is personally very interested and supportive of the trials we are doing to test early treatments for COVID-19 in the community. He remains keen in promoting community participation in research in general, including vaccination trials and also the COVID treatment trials like PRINCIPLE and PANORAMIC. This extensive reach of the temple through its entire community is so powerful and encouraging to see in real.
"Having input from the community into the design, delivery and implementation of findings from trials means that outcomes will be widely applicable, owned, and used.
"I feel this is the beginning of a very meaningful and special relationship and one for us to build on longer term with the Neasden Temple and it's inspiring team of volunteers."
The festival marked the centennial birth anniversary of His Holiness (HH) Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the creator of the temple and one of the world’s great spiritual leaders.
The Temple has a strong history of supporting health initiatives in the local community, acting as a COVID-19 vaccination hub and a location to deliver research.