In a UK first, Ram Leela, the epic tale of the Hindu god Rama, was performed in Sutton as part of a pre-Diwali extravaganza over two nights. The event saw 35 performers on stage, 130 volunteers and more than 1,000 plates of food served, in a unique celebration of south Asian culture.
The local NHS was among the event’s sponsors, giving health services an opportunity to engage with the hundreds of people who came along to enjoy the spectacle.
Ram Leela was staged by Sutton Friends, a community organisation bringing together people of Indian heritage from across the borough and beyond. The event took place at the Thomas Wall Centre in Sutton but was broadcast to a live global audience via YouTube.
According to Parveen Kumar from Sutton Friends: “Literally translated, Ram Leela means ‘Ram’s Play’’. It is the performance of Ramayan Epic in a series of scenes that include song, narration, recital and dialogue. People from the community join together and assign various roles to each other and work on the script.”
Parveen added: “I started thinking about making Ram Leela happen in London two years ago but it’s a big project and needed a lot of preparation. Very few people were interested – but where there is a hope then nothing is impossible and, gradually, we gathered a team together. We bought some costumes and started working on a script. With unwavering support of Sutton Friends members including Ashish Jain, Amol Chaudhary, Anup Kabra and Manish Sahal, and after a long process of writing, practising and directing, we performed Ram Leela in the Thomas Wall Centre on 28 and 29 October.”
Sutton GP Dr Naomi Bennett explained how the local NHS came on board: “Before the event we designed a questionnaire for people who had registered. We asked what aspects of health were concerning them – and what other factors were having an impact on their wellbeing. We got quite a lot of responses, so with advice and advocacy service Together for Sutton‘s help, we put together tote bags, of information leaflets based on areas where people wanted support.”
Now, we can use this togetherness to make people more aware about many health issues, supporting the community to be healthy.”
Says Parveen: “Bringing the NHS on board was so important. Ram’s name is enough to bring the community together, so when people heard about it, they were so happy to support this event. Now, we can use this togetherness to make people more aware about many health issues, supporting the community to be healthy.”
The survey revealed that people were concerned with cost-of-living stresses and financial worries, as well as loss suffered during the pandemic, for some. When it came to health, blood pressure, mental wellbeing, gut health and dementia were all really important but the biggest concern was diabetes.
As Dr Bennett explained: “People were there to enjoy themselves so we didn’t feel it was appropriate to take away from this, by setting up a stall with information about debt, loss or health. Our presence was more about introducing ourselves, building relationships, telling them that we really want to work closely with their community and that we know diabetes in particular is an issue.”
After listening to people’s comments we’re pulling together information specifically for a south Asian diet.”
Clem Sloggett, health and wellbeing manager for GP practices in Sutton added. “When diabetes came up, we saw lots of heads nodding. Sutton Friend’s leaders themselves said that every second person they know is diabetic. They’re really keen to be involved with health promotion. They are always hearing about weight, about diabetes, about sugars but without really knowing how they can support each other.
“After listening to people’s comments we’re pulling together information specifically for a south Asian diet. Lots of diabetes advice is about western diets, but people over 60, who moved here from India tell us they don’t feel satisfied unless they have a bowl of rice and chapati because that’s what they’ve been brought up with. They don’t want to move to salads.”
Going forward, Dr Bennett said. “We will be looking at how we tailor the advice based on people’s preferences – maybe having a diabetes event or training community diabetes health champions.
It’s about making this sustainable so we’re not just running pop ups every few months but empowering communities to support themselves.”
“Sutton Friends are also hoping to increase physical activity in the community by organising regular Indian games sessions in the New Year. It’s about making this sustainable so we’re not just running pop ups every few months but empowering communities to support themselves. Peer support is often much more effective at achieving lasting change.”
Dr Naomi Bennett (integrated neighbourhood team lead for Central Sutton) and Dr Priya Senthilkumar (integrated neighbourhood team lead for Carshalton) will be collaborating with Praveen Kumar and Ashish Jain of Sutton Friends to support the Indian community in its health priorities.
Read more about the event and view the stunning photo gallery on the Sutton Friends website.