News and Events
Andy Akinwolere of Blue Peter visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, on the evening of Saturday 27 January 2007 to launch BAPS’ charity drive for the Blue Peter ‘Shoebiz Appeal’. The appeal, in support of a worldwide UNICEF campaign, is aimed at helping needy children in Malawi orphaned through AIDS.
Mr. Akinwolere, the Nigerian-born TV presenter, was welcomed in the traditional Hindu manner by two children from The Swaminarayan School. He was greeted with a red chandlo (round mark of vermillion powder on the forehead), and a nada-chhadi (a friendship thread tied to his right wrist).
Gathered outside in the Mandir courtyard were hundreds of children and parents, eager to launch the BAPS drive with Andy. As BBC TV cameras watched on, a countdown and release of confetti marked the public inauguration of the charity campaign. Parents and children contributed to the launch with a strong show of support. Much to Andy’s delight, they brought onto the stage hundreds of pairs of shoes. The Children’s Forum has set a target of collecting 5000 pairs of shoes for the appeal.
The ‘Shoebiz Appeal’ is being promoted by Blue Peter, a long-running, popular BBC children’s television programme. With more than 4,000 episodes since it first started in 1958, Blue Peter is still screened three times a week on BBC1, Britain’s prime TV channel. The programme also runs an annual charity appeal which involves young viewers collecting items that can be recycled or sold to raise money for a worthy cause. Over the years, the programme has supported various charities, including Oxfam and Childline. This year’s campaign encourages children to collect shoes which will help raise funds for AIDS orphans in Malawi.
After the official launch outside, Mr. Akinwolere was escorted around the temple complex inside. Genuinely impressed with the “unbelievable intricate architecture of the temple”, he was also shown a photographic exhibition of the international social and welfare activities of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
Finally, Andy was escorted into the Haveli Prayer Hall. There, he was introduced to the gathered devotees and welcomed with a garland by Yogvivek Swami, head sadhu of the mandir.
In his address to the assembly, Andy spoke of the overwhelming experience of his visit and the warm welcome he had received from the children. He offered his gratitude to BAPS for its support of the ‘Shoebiz Appeal’ and shared his hopes for the future. “Together,” he said, “we can make a difference to the lives of children orphaned by HIV and AIDS.” Andy was presented with a special memento before he departed.
Clips of the launch were broadcast on Blue Peter (BBC1) on Tuesday 6 February 2007.
Sebastian Coe, Chairman of London 2012, accompanied by Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards, visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, on the evening of 23 January 2007.
Lord Coe is considered to be one of the finest middle distance runners in history. He is certainly Britain’s greatest Olympic athlete. During his running career, he broke the world record 12 times in the 800m and 1500m track events. After retiring from athletics, Sebastian pursued a successful career in British politics. In 1992, he was elected Member of Parliament and served as chief of staff for William Hague until 1997. In 1997, Sebastian Coe was awarded a Peerage to the House of Lords. He successfully led the London bid for the 2012 Olympic Games and is now the Chairman of the Olympic Organising Committee for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Jonathan Edwards is also one of Britain’s finest athletes. Jonathan is one of only four athletes in history to hold the Olympics, World, European and Commonwealth titles at the same time. Jonathan is a devout Christian and such is his faith in God that he declined to compete in the 1991 world championships as the event fell on a Sunday. When asked about his faith, he replied, “My relationship with Jesus and God is fundamental to everything I do whether in work or sport.” It is his unique faith in God that allowed him to win a total of 25 gold, silver and bronze medals in major championships. He is still the world record holder in the triple jump, having set the record way back in 1995. Jonathan retired from athletics in 2003. In 2005, he joined the board of the 2012 London Olympics Organising Committee.
Coincidentally, their visit marked exactly 2012 days to the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The party was welcomed by Girish Patel and introduced to the Board of Trustees. Yogvivek Swami escorted Lord Coe and Mr. Edwards upstairs to the main shrines of the Mandir and subsequently to the “Understanding Hinduism” exhibition.
The guests were greeted with rapturous applause inside the assembly hall where devotees had gathered for their arrival. The audience applauded as the sporting achievements of both athletes were read out. Yogvivek Swami garlanded Lord Coe and Jonathan Edwards. In his address, Lord Coe praised the spirit of volunteerism that the Mandir fosters and welcomed its participation in the 2012 games.
“Our message in Singapore [the city where Lord Coe won the bid for the right to host the games] chimes in with everything that I have heard tonight and I have witnessed. The message we took to Singapore was clear and unambiguous. It was about using sport to communicate with the next generation of young people – using sport to communicate the values of creativity, diversity and tolerance. Those, of course, are the values that surround us all here this evening.
I think one of the lessons we have also learnt tonight is that while we need 70,000 volunteers in 2012, I think we understand, when we come to your temple this evening, that we would not be standing marvelling at the spectacular architecture and the beautiful creations around us, had it not been for the volunteers that worked within such a professional structure to create something so beautiful in two years.”
Lord Coe and Jonathan Edwards were presented with mementos before leaving the auditorium. They then proceeded for a meal where the members of the Mandir sporting committee discussed their projects and achievements. Lord Coe’s visit provided an excellent opportunity for the Mandir to contribute towards the 2012 Olympic Games and assist the organising committee in their preparations.
To share his experience of the Mandir visit, Lord Coe posted a blog on the London 2012: Work In Progress website, with the title “Neasden’s magnificent Mandir“.
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