The Sikh diaspora community has time and again used their platforms to trace cultural shifts, paint a picture of shared lived experiences, and decipher their own connotations of ‘home’ to create a sense of solidarity beyond borders.
Today we’re shining a spotlight on one such individual lending his voice and visual platform to trace the cultural roots and uncovered stories of the community. A sunny disposition, eloquent dress sense and a palpable enthusiasm for architecture, both literally and metaphorically are our first impressions of the beloved Cockney Singh. Upon taking a deeper glance into his Instagram, Suresh Singh aka the Cockney Sikh stands out with his distinctive childhood, a milieu of talents, and a treasure trove of stories that unravel the lived experiences of an immigrant kid in 20th century Britain.
Born in the gritty neighbourhood of East London, Suresh Singh is part of the immigrant brotherhood that defined the face of Cockney culture. While glitzy new outlets, white working-class demographic and trendy cafes define the current face of the East End, it wasn’t always the case. London has always claimed of a culturally rich melting pot, while East London has been regarded as the ‘other’ or ‘foreign’ as opposed to the posh suburbs.
Witnessing the architectural change inside that transcends building and seeps into the social blueprint, Suresh Singh grew up facing the hardships and brutal racism that plagued the city in the 90s.
His father Joginder Singh migrated from Punjab to work in Britain in hopes of a better life and found himself amidst the diverse community of Bricklane. Embracing his father’s lessons of ‘Sikhi’ and a strong penchant for philanthropy, Suresh inherited his love for architecture and philanthropy from him as well. Joginder encouraged his son to pursue his interest in music, which led to Suresh emerging as one of the first Punjabi punks on the scene. Later on, he went ahead to pursue architecture at UCL Bartlett School of Architecture and led the restoration of a number of Georgian houses in Spitalfields.
His book, Memoirs of A Cockney Sikh offers a clear and vibrant insight into stories of his friends and family acquired over 70 years, architectural developments in the East End, and his love for his father. The chapters are separated by Sikh recipes penned by his wife Jagjir Kaur.
Growing up as a quintessential Punjabi boy, his youth was filled with National Front racism, punk rebellion, and learning to strike a balance between his faith and Cockney identity. A community mentor and historian, Singh is often found sifting through photographs and illustrations that reflect the changing faces of his family and the evolution of Cockney culture.
Suresh Singh is still in Spitalfields and actively gives back to the community by teaching underprivileged students and Instagramming anecdotes that represent a golden era of his life.
View his work here.
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