A Wiltshire Community Foundation grant will help bring the young people and women of Swindon’s Tamil community closer to their culture after lockdown.
The Swindon Tamil Association has been awarded £2,000 from the foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to help towards the cost of classes in Tamil language and culture such as music and dance.
The fund has raised almost £1.2 million and distributed £950,000 to groups all over Swindon and Wiltshire through more than 200 grants.
The Tamil association represents and cares for the growing number of Tamil families living in and around Swindon, but with many losing hours or being furloughed it lost vital subscription revenue to fund its classes in Tamil language, dance and music.
The new lockdown also put paid to English classes, just as they were returning to normal.
“We had been doing online lessons during the lockdown but it’s ironic that we had just started face-to-face lessons again when we had the second lockdown,” said association president Ram Thiagarajah.
“We don’t know what will happen on December 2, if the lockdown is extended, and then we will be getting closer to Christmas, so we won’t begin the lessons again now until January."
The association will be looking out for older members of the community by doing shopping and collecting prescriptions.
Mr Thiagarajah said: “We also have a group keeping in touch with our members through WhatsApp, we make sure we care for everyone and the grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation will really help us.”
Mr Thiagarajah added that although the community’s young people are essentially British, helping them connect with their language and culture is important for their identity.
“The parents will speak Tamil at home, but the children are at school speaking English all day, which is natural, and if their parents ask them a question in Tamil, they reply in English,” he said.
His wife, Aruna, was teaching English to adults at Swindon College night classes when one class of predominantly Tamils told her about their fears that their children were losing the connection with their culture.
They set up the association, which runs 11 classes for young people from four to 17 at Park South and Walcot and Buckhurst community centres. Classes are taught by parents who were previously teachers in Sri Lanka and others who trained in London.
“The children are learning how to write in Tamil and how to use the correct grammar,” said Mr Thiagarajah. “What is heartening for me is that there are children who have taken A-levels in Tamil and got distinctions - it shows the teaching here is excellent.”
The children also learn music and dance and then get to demonstrate their prowess at colourful festival celebrations throughout the year, including Deepavali, harvest festival on January 14 and Tamil New Year on April 14 or 15.