BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London welcomed more than 1,100 women on Saturday 8 March 2014 to celebrate International Women’s Day.

The day, recognised by the United Nations, was celebrated with an inspiring conference titled ‘The Strength Within’, which aimed to reinforce the delegates’ resilience, build their self-belief, and harness their inner strength.

Chief Guest and Keynote Speaker at the event was Tessa Sanderson CBE, six-time British Olympian and a gold medal-winner at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Addressing the gathering, Ms Sanderson began by saying she was “delighted to be here” before going on to share through personal examples what International Women’s Day means to her – “grasping an opportunity” and being “mentally and physical prepared to take and face challenges.” She discussed the “full-time job that was involved in winning the Olympic gold medal in 1984,” and urged the audience to have “self-confidence and belief.”

After the plenary session, Ms Sanderson visited a selection of the workshops that had been organised to help women strengthen their resolve. These were supported by seminars to convey practical lessons in overcoming everyday obstacles and realising one’s full potential.

Vibrant cultural performances, including a colourful dance and an expertly performed mono-act, depicted the many talents that women possess. Other activities, including an arts and crafts stall, meditation and yoga, and a focus on the environment through a gardening workshop, provided depth and variety to the event. Important discussions on bullying and health were also very well received. Members of the British Heart Foundation, who were one of the sponsors for the programme, were also on hand to offer advice and guidance.

The concluding session of the event explored the importance of faith through a variety of mediums, including a lively debate.

Other guests at the event included Cllr Ansuya Sodha and Cllr Krupa Sheth, as well as Dr Suman Datta, Jennette Arnold (Member of the London Assembly), Mei Sim Lai Peters OBE (Representative Deputy Lieutenant for the Borough of Brent), PC Purnima Raval (the Metropolitan Police Service’s longest-serving female Hindu officer), Lt Col. Colette MacDonald (Diversity Manager for the Army), and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Dawn Butler.

The event proved highly educative and inspirational for the delegates, as one young attendee later shared: “I genuinely believe in myself more now. The keynote address and the many informative workshops have given me the tools to achieve more and make a greater impact in life.”

Rupal Patel, one of the lead organisers of the event, added: “Helping women of all ages find their ‘inner strength’ and get the best out of themselves was an important objective of the conference. Hopefully the many determined women who shared their life-experiences today will inspire many more to follow them in achieving something special in life.”

Upon departing from the Mandir, Ms Sanderson further shared: “This temple is simply beautiful. The work done by women of all ages is equally inspirational and the spirit of volunteerism is unmatched.”

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