A MAN who brought the county’s Punjabi community together has stepped down after three decades of service.

Baldev Soni, 75, founded the Sussex Indian Punjabi Society in 1990.

Before his efforts, people from the North Indian state were scattered across the county and there was little sense of community.

But Mr Soni worked tirelessly to make Punjabis feel at home. He set up gatherings and celebrations that brought hundreds of people joy and helped families keep Indian traditions alive as they settled in Sussex.

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Part of the impulse was personal. When the 16-year-old Baldev Soni arrived in the UK and settled in Peacehaven in the 1960s, he missed having friends and family nearby.

He faced racism and had to work hard to make a living. “He had a lot of learning to do and a lot of discrimination to face,” said his friend Balbir Singh Gohler, who is taking over as chairman.

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But Mr Soni was driven by more than just his own desire for kinship. He wanted what was best for others and used the society as a platform for good deeds and his work was even recognised by the Queen.

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Among his many achievements, he helped set up a secondary school in Peacehaven and has been instrumental in the community’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Alongside Davinder Dhillon of the Chattri Memorial Group and other local Indian societies, Mr Soni helped raise £10,000 to support food banks through the pandemic.

He has looked out for vulnerable people living in lockdown and even donated his own food.

For many in the Punjabi community, Mr Soni’s time as chairman will be remembered by the gatherings he set up.

They started as informal meetings, where Punjabi people could make friends and reminisce.

But they soon snowballed into celebrations, and rented town halls and community centres began hosting festivals including Diwali and Vaisakhi.

Mr Gohler said they became “joyous moments for people across Sussex who didn’t meet regularly”.

People would enjoy Indian food, watch performances and dance.

There would be DJ sets and singers and at Diwali, children would step on stage to light diya lamps.

Under his watch, Mr Soni has seen the Sussex Punjabi community grow and flourish.

His son Rishi said: “He always wanted that sense of community and to make sure our Indian culture is not forgotten.

“Now, it’s up to the younger generation to continue his work.”