From left to right: Sandeep Mahal MBE, Gurvinder Singh Sandher MBE, Barjinderpall Kaur Lall MBE, Jasbir Dhesi OBE, and Daljit Nagra MBE

Sikhs and people of Sikh heritage working in the arts and education sectors are amongst the many being honoured by Her Majesty the Queen in the Birthday Honours List of 2022. 

Amongst the notable individuals is Sandeep Mahal. She is the former Director of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, where she drove the city’s vision for a place where everyone is reading and writing their way to a better life. Sandeep spent ten years in public libraries in Sandwell, working as Race Equality Librarian, and later as Outreach Services Librarian. She has also spent many years of experience in the UK publishing environment, transforming the way UK publishers collaborated with the UK public library network. In 2013, Sandeep was seconded as a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow to The Space – a commissioning agency supporting greater digital access to the arts, co-funded by Arts Council England and the BBC. Sandeep has previously judged the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and the Costa Prize First Novel Award. She is a trustee of Spread the Word and the Women’s Prize Trust. She receives an MBE.

When asked about her honour, Sandeep said “I am stunned and thrilled to receive this honour. I feel privileged to be acknowledged in this way, but I take this, not for any title, but in recognition of my Sikh parents’ journey and that generation who came here and worked so hard to give us a better life. My time as Director of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature has been the most professionally rewarding period of my career, and for me, what made it so wonderful was our mission of building a better world with words and championing greater representation so that more people are encouraged, inspired and empowered by arts and culture. I am truly humbled to represent my Sikh heritage and grateful for all the support and inspiration I have received over the years.

Another recipient is Gurvinder Singh Sandher, the CEO of the KECC (Kent Equality Cohesion Council) and Artistic Director of Cohesion Plus. He has been involved in the voluntary sector since 1999 and he established Cohesion Plus in 2008. During his career in the charity sector, he has worked extensively across Kent in partnership with community, faith and statutory sectors to promote community cohesion, engagement with diverse communities and to eliminate discrimination. He is also a founding member of UK based Bhangra group Four By Four with whom he has performed all over the world, promoting Punjabi culture and arts. He receives an MBE.

On hearing the news, Gurvinder said “Words cannot fully express how humbled and sincerely grateful I am to receive this recognition. Having worked in the heart of local diverse communities for over 20 years now, I have been incredibly lucky to work with and learn from a great number of local champions and heroes. As such, I can genuinely say that this honour belongs to the community and those individuals as much as it does me. I am also so grateful for the fact that my parents will be able to see me receive this honour. They came to the UK from India in the 1960s and had to face countless struggles and barriers in order to make a life for their family. I will be eternally grateful to them for everything they gave me.” 

Barjinderpall Kaur Lall, also known as Biddy, is the Head of Curriculum at JGA Group, which is a leading apprenticeship, training and career management organisation. She has been involved in education for the last 25 years, initially as a member of her local Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) before joining the world of apprenticeships and skills training as a lecturer in 2009 and making her way up to her current role. She receives an MBE. 

Biddy said “I am absolutely delighted, humbled and honoured to be recognised for this award. I am thankful for the opportunities and interactions with the communities of practice that have shared interests in developing a values-based curriculum through the apprenticeships-education and skills training, shaping the mutual growth of our future leaders at every level, in every sector, and our economy.”

Jasbir Dhesi is Principal and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cheshire College South & West and has over 24 years’ experience in senior leadership roles across 3 colleges.  He is a qualified teacher and has previously been the Principal/CEO of South Cheshire College and Yale College. He has worked with employers and partners to support economic growth and development of Cheshire and the wider region. In 2019 he joined the Cheshire Police & Crime Commissioner’s Anti Bullying Commission. He receives an OBE

Daljit Nagra is a highly acclaimed poet who draws heavily from his Punjabi and Sikh background within his works. One of his most famous poems, Singh Song, is taught in schools as part of Key Stage 3 and GCSE English. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University and the Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. His poetry collections have won various awards, and his work has been shortlisted for the Costa Prize and twice for the TS Eliot Prize. He was the inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Radio 4, and he presents the weekly Poetry Extra on Radio 4 Extra. He receives an MBE. 

Other recipients of Sikh heritage in the list include:


• Sumeet Kaur MATHARU – Chief Pharmacist, Defence Primary Healthcare, Ministry of Defence. For services to Armed Forces Healthcare (Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands)

• Vippen Paul SAGOO – Founder, Global Asian Awards. For services to the Asian community, and to Diversity and Inclusion


• Ameeta VIRK – Markets Leader, Department for International Trade. For services to the Economy

The Chair of City Sikhs, Jasvir Singh OBE, said “It’s wonderful to be able to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with the news of hard working people across the country being recognised for their efforts and their dedication to others. As Sikhs, the values of ‘kirat karna’ or working hard and honestly are an essential part of our identity, and it brings me great joy to see that being acknowledged in this way. Arts and education in particular have a huge influence on the way that we see the world around us. Congratulations to everyone on the Honours list.”    

Notable allies of City Sikhs who have received honours from the Queen include: 

• Pranav BHANOT – Councillor, Chigwell Parish Council. For services to the Community in Chigwell, Essex

• Ameet JOGIA – Councillor, London Borough of Harrow and Co-chair, Conservative Friends of India. For Political and Public Service

• Dr Nikita Kirit VED – Research Fellow and Lecturer in Medicine, University of Oxford. For services to the Covid-19 Response

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