OBV Profile: Harmander Singh

Harmander champions a range of issues concerning injustice, identity and social policy. His civic duties include active involvement with local Gurdwara's (Sikh temples); He is a trustee/director of the National Faith Based Regeneration Network UK; and a member of the Faith Community's Chaplaincy Trust at Feltham Young Offenders Institute - set up to rehabilitate offenders into to the community through their faith.

He is the Sikh representative on the BBC Standing Conference on Religion and Belief and a regular guest speaker on National Radio networks on a range of cultural and current affair subjects such as immigration, security, customs and practices, with occasional contributions to the 'Cordoba Trust' publications on faith related issues.

Spiritual and social wellbeing gets a double tick on Harmander's priority list, so it's no coincidence that he is currently working with the London Civic Forum (LCF) faith development steering group which aims to connect faith communities with civic governance players.

Harmander's remit with the LCF is to help unite nine of the world's major religions, among them Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism so as to provide a forum through which the different faiths voices can be heard at a regional level. With London being the capital city, these voices are clearly going to be more than just regional. The forum seeks to encourage faith groups to work harmoniously as a united group.

As a Trustee of the Valentines Mansion Trust, Harmander is also currently organising a series of events to bring out the contribution of various faiths to the British way of life today. The first one, focusing on Sikhism, is scheduled for November 2009.

The dual-focus of the event will spotlight the Sikh people, their historic and contemporary contribution to society as well as showcasing the Anglo-Sikh Heritage of Britain. Harmander's sheer dedication and commitment to bringing this work to fruition goes without saying. He says, "Although we the British have been going around the globe for centuries and laying claim to lands where we were the foreigners after which we ended up running these new found lands in the name of the King/Queen of the day, it seems that despite our apex education system we sometimes cannot get to grips with the immense contribution made by people from our ex-colonies to the free and prosperous surroundings today.".

Harmander recently returned from a residential trip to Corrymeela in Northern Ireland where he accompanied a group of Sikhs and Muslims to engage in bi-lateral dialogue using an adapted conflicted resolution plan that was part of the peace process in the Province and is engaged in the implementation stage of the development plan arising from the trip. He says, "There were four recommendations from the work at Corrymeela, one of which was to establish a joint working platform - under the auspices of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, we have set up a National Sikh/Muslim Advisory Group to start the process of joint working."

Harmander has made many valuable contributions to ensuring better social cohesion and welfare of the Sikh Community within the wider society. His natural affinity towards harmony led him to become an Independent Advisory Group member for Metropolitan Police Service and chair of the National Sikh Security Forum simultaneously. Working closely with the National Communities Tension Team (NCTT) to bring an understanding to issues which has the potential to create distrust between the authorities and the Sikh community. Explaining this logic Harmander says, "It is often a case of not understanding the nuances of cultural reactions to situations that leads to feelings of mistrust on both sides. The regular and frank discussions at the National Sikh Security meetings help pave the way for better working relationships between the Police and the Sikh Community."

In tandem with all the foregoing Harmander is also co-founder and principal adviser of Sikhs In England, an internet based social policy think-tank with a global network of over 35,000).

A veteran to public activism, Harmander's early start in leadership came in 1978 when he became Vice-President of the Student's Union at Redbridge Technical College and later President of NELP Sikh Students' Federation. As a volunteer practitioner, he became interested in Youth work and from 1994 until 2003 was a management committee member of Loxford & Mildmay Youth Centre in Ilford. Taking heed from his disabled mother and the difficulties she faced, Harmander became an 'Independent Person' on the Local Authority Complaints Panel and later Social Service Inspectorate for the London Region until 2008.

Aspiring to do more in education, he became OFSTED Lay Inspector of Schools in 1990 having previously been elected as a Parent Governor. He served twenty one years in a number of schools in Essex until his youngest child left school last year to attend University. Having trained with the General Medical Council to investigate allegations of malpractice by doctors, Harmander worked for a number of years with the then Healthcare Commission.

The many other strings to his bow include phone-in radio shows, presenting in English as well as Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. And not one to sit on his hands when there's work to be done, he became a member of the shadow and then inaugural Independent Television Commission (ITC) Viewer's Consultative Council in 1990 after becoming concerned at the content of media output.

In 1992 Harmander wrote the first 'Asian Manifesto'. He's currently drafting the 7th edition as we head to the next General Election - this publication highlights the priorities and thoughts of the six interacting groups, namely Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis with Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

Harmander became a Justice of Peace at Redbridge Magistrate's Court in 1993 and is currently the second longest serving Asian but longest serving Sikh magistrate on the Bench. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of East London for outstanding achievements in community development.

He was also Sikh coordinator of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) funded Cohesive Communities project, where he was responsible for exploring reasons and seeking solutions to tensions between Muslim and Sikh communities in the UK.

Having held several Corporate and Strategic policy roles during his 24 years in local government alongside a history of social giving dating back to shorts pants, when and how does Harmander relax or have fun?

The short answer he says is, "during my free time I enjoy keeping fit and relax by long-distance road running!"

The jovial Harmander is particularly serious here, having run 170 half-marathons, 42 full marathons and an ultra-thon, raising funds for various UK charities. He has also trained over 50 men and women, including the famous Fauja Singh who ran his first marathon aged 89 (setting World Bests ever since, latest being 5 hours 40minutes at 94 years old) and Buster Martin who ran his first marathon at the reputed age of 101 in April 2008.

His next set of races this year are the Glasgow City half marathon, followed by the Great North Run, The Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the Royal Parks half marathon…Harmander says, "I have not learned to drive so tend to use public transport or run - I have size eight feet but a miniscule carbon footprint"

And what about family time Mr Singh, "I have four children, two grand children and 'er indoors - they can all tell the time without my help - no really, I value every moment I spend with them.".