Kerala House Renovation Project (KHRP) Final Update – June 2014
It is with immense pride and sheer gratitude that I piece together the final KHRP update. As promised, I can gladly say that Kerala House is now fully renovated and we are gearing up to celebrate this success in style and with a unique touch. The 3 days of celebrations unfold with a deliberate aim to cater for the interests of the wide number of committed community members who have supported KHRP in any shape or form. A sensational package of celebrations awaits you to mark the re-opening of Kerala House with grace and style and to thank you for your ongoing support. Events are being planned for Monday 9, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 June 2014 and will be tailored to entertain, enthuse and encourage babies to elders to get involved with the festivities.
Before I move on to revealing further details about the celebrations, let’s reflect together on the journey we took in seeing the Kerala House in its present state. I apologise in advance, as this update is long and may be repetitive.
Initially, the discussions to renovate Kerala House were met with an aura of hesitance from many members and directors due to concerns about funding a project of this scale. However, after £20,000 was identified through potential life members and the urgency to ensure health and safety measures were highlighted, the majority of doubtful members were convinced that the renovation of Kerala House was paramount and could not be compromised.
A project plan was submitted at the 2012 AGM and the idea to offer 50 life memberships at £400 each in order to raise funds was approved. Due to the overwhelmingly high response from members who wished to support KHRP a further 10 more life memberships were approved by the 2013 AGM. This cleared the apprehensions of many about whether the community will support MAUK to undertake such a challenging project. However, some in the Director Board still needed more convincing and a few waited to be inspired. The unprecedented support from the community members during the consultation period ultimately persuaded the entire MAUK board members to actively support KHRP.
So as a team we had to embrace the fundraising challenge with open arms and be driven with determination to do our utmost to raise the funds in order to make our renovation plans a reality. A sub-committee to plan and execute the project was set up under my leadership. Fundraising activities began as a matter of priority. Various options were explored and ultimately it was decided to focus on life memberships, door-to-door collections and business sponsorships to raise funds. We applied to various statutory bodies and private trusts for grants but none were successful due to the tough economic climate and the fact that the project only catered for one specific community. However, this did not dampen the determination of the KHRP team as the enthusiasm from the community was tremendous. We ploughed on believing in the generosity and community-spirit of British Malayalees.
The building plan was drawn up by Anil Divakaran of Total Property Partnership, who initially arrived as a paid professional but ended up being a volunteer after witnessing the sheer passion of the KHRP team. Anil volunteered to advice and oversee the building work. He conducted regular inspection of the work.
After careful consideration of the seven quotes we received for the building work, Mr. Satpal Singh was awarded the contract as his quote was the most competitive and he had wide commendation from the Malayalee community. Throughout the work and even when purchasing any equipment, a minimum of three quotes were obtained for all items before finally deciding on the best option.
All the MAUK services that were conducted at Kerala House were moved to London Tamil Sangam. The
Building work commenced on 1 November 2013 (Keralapiravi day) and it soon became evident that the initial budget of £85K and the completion time of 4 months is way off target. We had to extend the deadline for the completion of the work to the end of April 2014, and revise the cost to £115K. This was due to additional requirements instructed by the Planning Officers at Newham council, as well as unforeseen additional work needed due to the long term poor maintenance and the shoddy work done in the past. Additional work included removing the chimney on the first floor, rebuilding the rear extension, replacing the first floor window, re-plastering the entire walls on the first floor, strengthening the loft with metal beams and installing extra ventilations. It became apparent that it will be more feasible to also renovate the cellar so that we could save costs and time. The builder Mr. Satpal Singh kindly deferred his payment of £4100 (the additional cost of renovating the cellar) for another 12 months- giving us some breathing space. MAUK services and activities returned to the newly renovated Kerala House in the first week of May 2014. The Aunties of the 60+ Sisters Club marked their return to Kerala House with a traditional house warming ceremony on Thursday 15 May 2014.
The Key Players….
The completion of KHRP was a proud and prestigious moment for all those who were involved. There are some key players in KHRP who need to be applauded for their dedicated efforts. Of these, the first name that needs mentioning is of Sreevalsalan Pillai, who has been especially meticulous and kept a close eye on every minute detail of the building work, visiting Kerala House daily for over 6 months and demonstrating the spirits of a sincere and steadfast volunteer. Jayan Pillai, who was new to the MAUK board, proved he was a worthy asset through his commitment in raising funds for KHRP. Both Jayan Pillai and myself dedicated our Sundays from July 2013 to March 2014 to secure funds through door-to-door collections and sponsorship. Other members of the Director Board; Nash Rawther, Edwin Thomas, R Sambasivan, Balamurali Nair, Raveendran Nair, K.G Nair, Ravi Bhaskaran, Baldwin Simon Rajeswari Sadasivian, Lalitha Pillai, Nandini Dharmaseelan and Sudheer Vasudevan all played their part in assisting with fundraising to ensure the project was a success. Volunteers like Jestin Simon, Michael Joseph, and Vinod Navadhara also assisted with tasks that were not included in the builder’s contract helping to reduce costs.
After all the lengths we went to in order to carry out the KHRP successfully, it felt only right to celebrate this accomplishment and important milestone for MAUK with the utmost splendour and elegance.
At the consultation meeting held on Friday, 18 April 2014 to seek ideas for Kerala House Opening Ceremony, as well as through the response reserved through emails, fb messages and phone calls it was apparent that KHRP and MAUK supporters fall into different categories of people, who may not all share the same interests. We recognised that we should respect the interests of everyone equally and make an effort to cater for them all. A three-day celebration was planned mainly for practical reasons. Discussions and feedback made it clear that we needed to celebrate and acknowledge a wide range of talented and gifted artists based in the UK and offer refreshing events to our audience.
Suprabha Nair, a woman of many talents (singer, classical dancer, compere, coordinator) was aptly chosen to synchronise the re-opening ceremonies as she has proven her passion, professionalism and drive for perfection. From the moment she took charge she has been totally immersed in her duties as a coordinator, going above and beyond to ensure that she delivers to a high standard and does MAUK proud. Suprabha has gone to great lengths to collaborate with as many new, promising as well as professional artists to ensure that what we offer you will be revitalising, refreshing and worthwhile. I can assure you that her hard work will be well-received and highly commended by those present.
The cultural events arranged by Suprabha are a collection of classical and contemporary dance, drama and music by MAUK’s own as well as a wide range of local and internationally renowned artists. Performances of children aged 5 to elders who are 80+ will certainly add uniqueness and inclusivity to this celebration. It will be an honour to see such a great collection of artists on one stage.
On Monday 9 June, the first day of the celebration, The High Commission of India, H.E. Shri Ranjan Mathai in the presence of K. S. Chitra, First Secretary M. P Singh and other prominent guests from media, businesses and arts, will officially re-open Kerala House. This will be followed by performances and other activities by MAUK Elders Services users. The focus of day one will be to appreciate the elders in our community and MAUK ex-officials who were instrumental in the purchase of Kerala House. It will also be a platform to acknowledge and thank MAUK supporters from the world of media, business, arts and other partner organisations. Admission to this day is by invitation only due to safety and practical reasons.
Hon. Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, will be the chief guest on the second day, Saturday 14 June 2014. This day will mainly showcase the rich cultural heritage of India and opens a wonderful opportunity to enjoy excelling multi-cultural traditional and modern performances by a diverse range of superb artists. The day will conclude with a DJ and dance floor. All MAUK supporters are welcome to enjoy this event, however, admission may be restricted at times to prevent over-crowding.
The third day, Sunday 15 June 2014, focuses on babies, children, and young people’s activities. There will also be taster sessions of MAUK classes.
Invitation to MAUK Life Members
As Life Members of MAUK, whose continued support for KHRP was our pillar of strength, I am pleased to invite you to the KHOC on all three days. I would kindly request you to inform me in advance if you are planning to attend on day 1, Monday 9 June.
Apart from our dedicated directors and committed volunteers, there are many individuals and orgainsations whose invaluable contribution enabled the successful completion of Kerala House.
I must express my gratitude to T Haridas of Kerala Group of Restaurants, for supporting KHRP as well as playing an essential role in the planning of KHOC. It was his initiative that ensured the presence of the High Commissioner and guests from the Indian High Commissioner’s office. He was also influential in finding sponsors for KHOC.
I would also like to extend our special thanks to Joy Thomas of Allied Group, Jomon of Garshom TV and Jaison George for ensuring the presence K S Chitra for the reopening ceremony. I would like to thank Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, Director of UAExchange Europe region for being the first corporate member of MAUK. I also acknowledge the support of Roy Pascal of Sam Travels, Anil and Sheeba of Swayam Property Services, Bhrama of Veena’s superstore for being MAUK main sponsors, Sreekumar of Anand Media, who is also an ex-official of MAUK, Nordi Jacob of Schiermove.com, Sasi Nair of Neil Travels for their continued support for MAUK.
To the best of my knowledge, KHRP was the largest project that the Malayalee community has witnessed. It was certainly one of the most challenging projects MAUK has undertaken. I am privileged to have been selected to lead this project. My inspiration to lead this challenge came from Sachidanandan Pillai and his team which included Hilary D’Cruz, R Sambasivan, K R Nair, Narayanan Nair, Sreekumar Sadanandan, Sreedharan, plus others who I may have missed, who managed to raise a staggering £7000 in just few weeks from amongst the 1000 or so Malayalee population in Southeast England in 1987. Their passion and dedication ensured the purchase of the first freehold premises by a secular, non-political community organisation in the western world in 1987. I feel honoured that I was the catalyst for the preservation of this venue for the next generation.
This project would have never got off the ground if it weren’t for the members who came forward to take up the life membership scheme. It was their enthusiasm and support that encouraged the MAUK board to go ahead with this project. I take this opportunity to once again sincerely thank each and every one of you and all the other community members who contributed to the best of their ability and offered motivational words.
Yes, I do believe that the KHRP team has achieved something that most voluntary sector organisations can only dream of. To find £116K from a minority community especially during severe austerity times, to renovate a building is such a great achievement.
For me, leading the KHRP has been an emotionally and physically stressful journey although equally it has been a valuable learning curve. I can honestly say that during the last two years or more, I spent considerable time every day dreaming of the new Kerala House and working towards this dream come true. I have made many personal sacrifices and perhaps even created one or two critics who couldn’t stand my stubbornness. I may have even lost friends by not keeping in touch with them. There were times when I questioned myself if I was doing enough or if I was doing the right thing. There were times when the pressure over silly issues tempted me to pack it all in. Equally, the support I got from my friends, family and community members were so wonderfully motivational and encouraging that it enabled me to stay focused and reminded me that failure was not an option.
Truthfully, the rewards of what was achieved outweighed any amount of time and effort I committed or any criticisms I drew. The successful completion of this project has given me the confidence to take on new challenges. It has taught me greater patience and made me a better judge of characters. It brought me closer to my roots and my community members. To me, the best part of the project was the interaction with my community members every weekend since June 2013.
I couldn’t have spent so much time and effort for MAUK without the truly amazing support of all my family members. With your permission, I take this opportunity to thank them for their support and patience.
I hope that throughout this project, the KHRP team acted in a fair, inclusive, welcoming and transparent manner and have kept you informed regularly of the developments. You can see pictures of the transformation of Kerala House in various stages on MAUK Facebook page: fb.com/mauklondon. We will be updating it with videos and photos of the celebrations. Please like this page for regular updates of MAUK activities.
I leave you with a quote of Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” I wish you all joy.
Project Lead | KHRP