NishkamSWAT

Written by Emily Leeming
May 23, 2019

We spoke to Randeep Singh, founder of the Sikh charity NishkamSWAT who feed and care for the homeless across London, the UK and around the world. Their vision is for every person they meet to know that ‘they are loved and valued, live safely, with respect, faith, hope and care for themselves and others, achieving their full potential and positively contributing to and transforming their communities’.

We’re standing by a shipping container adorned with a Sikh religious figure in sprayed graffiti. Prayer music plays out soft and melodious from an out of sight speaker system tucked away within the warehouse. ‘1469 Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh faith’ Randeep Singh tells me. I can sense it’s important to Randeep that he brings me here first before we head to his office and relax into squishy sofas with cups of tea. Randeep is the founder of NishkamSWAT, a Sikh charity that feeds the homeless. 

Where it begins

Guru Nanak taught three principles; selflessly serve others, work hard and honestly and always remember God. Sikhs believe that all humans are equal, regardless of gender, religion, race, or ethnicity. It’s a faith strongly rooted in moral values. Randeep exudes a steady warmth and goes on to say ‘we don't like to say the word religion. It's more of a way of life’. The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji – Randeep nods his head at the turbaned figure on the side of the container – was a humanitarian as well as a soldier recruited by God to defend the human rights of others at the time. His arrows were tipped with gold so that the family of the dead soldiers would have a plentiful life. His soldiers would give water to the wounded after every battle. He would offer to fight three of the opposition alone so that he could spare the whole opposition army. ‘We're about compassion, we’re about forgiveness, we're about truthfulness, humility, empathy. All these values are really, really, important to us’. 

NishkamSWAT

NishkamSWAT feeds the homeless based on the Sikh tradition of Langar. Langar is a term used in the Sikh faith for the free blessed meals served to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, gender, status or ethnicity. Randeep describes it as the ‘bread basket of the community’. Langar is traditionally served up by the temples – but through NishkamSWAT Randeep has taken this concept to the streets. The food is freely and willingly supplied by restaurants and families who operate, often out of their own kitchens, in vast pots – managing a particular day each week or month near the set-up location. NishkamSWAT now produces over 3000 meals a week in 19 locations across three countries. ‘Those families have been going on [providing food] since the last seven years and every once a month, they'll make their way there to have their turn’ says Randeep. He tells me how excited and happy these people are to share and give to others. It’s a rare and true quality in this day and age that is surely inspired in part by Randeep himself. Though now 1100 volunteers strong – Randeep still personally replies to every email. His mobile number remains on the all the promotion and contact materials. He shrugs when he tells me ‘I think that the secret of our success is to be on the ground’, rather than acting like the big boss. 

Randeep Singh

What started as a youth project

The charity wasn’t always this large. At the beginning in 2008 they had one van, 11 volunteers and operated out of Southall looking after disadvantaged youth. It was a year later that a drug worker came to Randeep and told him about a homeless Indian man nearby, and their homeless project was born. ‘I was like, oh my God, this is unheard of - an Indian man homeless in Southall – we’ve got to help him! And then he took us to another 200 plus homeless people in a small area.  It was so shocking. Tens of blocks of flats, and at the bottom of each block there's a bin room where the rubbish goes down the chute from every floor. And that’s where the majority of them were sleeping. And then a few under bridges, graveyards, stairwells, scattered along the canals’.

Langar

For four years Randeep was out on the streets of Southall every night, giving out clothing, fresh blankets, duvets, sleeping bags and signposting for drug health, immigration help, whatever they needed. ‘Hot food [at the time] was provided by the temples [14 temples in the local area] - no questions asked - but we were giving out hot drinks and non-perishable food like crisps, biscuits, cereal bars.’ Within four years they had built up a massive resource of supplies, with blankets from BA, a new van and drinks donated from GSK. In 2012 they decided to go into central London and begin serving Langar. ‘Let's take that message of who we are, what our values are and what our purpose is. My purpose is to serve and protect humanity. I just want to carry on doing that’ says Randeep.

Randeep emphasises that while NishkamSWAT is founded on Sikh principles – they haven’t got a religious agenda. He simply wants to share those values which can so easily be forgotten. Trust, compassion, empathy and hope. ‘We need to really uplift the British spirit’ he says simply.

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