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Multi-ethnic project gets millennium funding go ahead

Patel Taylor Architects aims to bring together 10 different religious groups from Jews to Muslims and Sikhs to Buddhists in a £20 million design attracting the biggest-ever lottery grant to an ethnic project.

It has submitted a planning application for the cultural centre in Harrow, north-east London (see below), and the Millennium Commission last week marked its faith in the 8000m2 project with a £10 million grant pledge. The Asha Centre - asha means hope and justice in several eastern languages - will include Britain's first museum of migration honouring the varied contributions of ethnics groups, galleries on world religions and a garden of tranquillity. The building, which is due to start in mid-2000 and be completed in October 2001, will also have an educational centre, theatre, cinema, exhibition gallery and a multi-purpose hall with 1000 seats. There will not be areas for prayer as visitors are expected to learn rather than worship.

Architect Pankaj Patel said the architecture would reflect the different religions and spaces with courtyards; closed, transparent or opaque spaces made from several different materials.

The project is the brainchild of Zerbanoo Gifford, a writer and former adviser to the Liberal Democrats' Paddy Ashdown, who founded the Asha Foundation two years ago. 'This is the most meaningful millennium project because it is about everybody, for everybody,' she said. 'London is the multi-cultural centre of the world with over 274 languages spoken.'

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