Visionary role models recognised at BRISLA Awards 2020

The British Sri Lankan Association (BRISLA) supporting the Sri Lankan community in the United Kingdom is delighted to announce the 2020 BRISLA Award winners.

Dr Zimar Sivardeen, Chair of the not-for-profit, non party political organisation set up the awards scheme six years ago to recognise the hard work and dedication of individuals and organisations who embody BRISLA’s mission to achieve a cohesive, fair and prosperous society for all.

The awards were judged by an esteemed panel that were looking to see who the visionaries are and who will set the tone for BRISLA as we go into the next decade.

HE Saroja Sirisena, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom commented on the importance of the awards and the work that BRISLA does: ‘The British Sri Lankan (BRISLA) plays an important role in the British Sri Lankan community. BRISLA contributes constructively in recognising the contribution made by British Sri Lankans in the promotion of social cohesion, integration and prosperity.

H.E. Saroja Sirisena

‘I am pleased that winners of the BRISLA Awards 2020 have been announced and take this opportunity to congratulate the winners of the BRISLA Awards 2020. The High Commission of Sri Lanka in the UK remains ready to extend its support to BRISLA towards the success of this endeavour this year.’

Dr Sivardeen, who oversees the event, also commented: ‘The 2020 Awards rightly recognised the tireless work of many established organisations and individuals who have invested their time over the years to instigate positive change.  I believe the winners will also inspire the next generation coming through.  The next decade will see significant changes in how we trade in a world that is facing very challenging times with the pandemic and our exit from the European Union.  Promoting unity and celebrating diversity will remain more paramount.


Outstanding Friend to the BRISLA community:

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon is the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict recently launching the Declaration of Humanity calling for the prevention of sexual violence in conflict and denounces the stigma too often faced by survivors, including children born of conflict-related sexual violence.

Lord Ahmad stated, ‘It is a great honour to have been awarded the Outstanding Contribution to the British Sri Lankan Community award as part of the BRISLA Awards 2020. I am sincerely grateful to the British Sri Lankan community and look forward to continuing to engage with all Sri Lankan communities and to strengthening UK and Sri Lanka ties.

The UK-Sri Lanka relationship is a special one, underpinned by deep historical ties and strong people to people links, not least the large Sri Lankan community in the UK who contribute so much to our country. Now more than ever, it is important that all communities, regardless of ethnicity, faith and background, come together both in the UK and in Sri Lanka to foster harmony and prosperity for all. 

 This year has been an extremely challenging one, and the impacts of coronavirus have been severe on both of our countries.  I know that the UK and Sri Lanka will continue to work together to tackle Covid 19, and work closely on our shared priorities such as trade, climate change and reconciliation.

I was glad to visit Sri Lanka in October 2019 and look forward to being able to do so again when circumstances allow.

Lifetime Achievement Award:

Sir Peter Heap KCMG joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after leaving Merton College, Oxford. As a diplomat he served in a variety of roles in Ireland, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela and was Deputy Director of British Information Services in New York, High Commissioner in the Bahamas, Trade Commissioner in Hong Kong, and finally Britain’s Ambassador to Brazil.

Sir Heap says: ‘I am honoured and most grateful to the British Sri Lankan Association (BRISLA), for nominating me for their 2020 Annual Lifetime Achievement Award, and of course am disappointed that because of the pandemic that we could not celebrate it together at a dinner, as in other years.

‘In the Friends of Sri Lanka Association (FOSLA), of which I am Chairman, we work to foster good relations and better understanding between Britain and Sri Lanka, and we salute other organisations, like BRISLA, who join with us in achieving those aims. My own links with Sri Lanka date back to having been a diplomat in the British High Commission in Colombo in the 1960s, and I have preserved close links, and very special personal friendships, with that beautiful country ever since. That link has given me many special memories: this award will add another.’

Sir Peter Heap

Local Community Hero of the Year:

Mr Sujith Weerasinghe demonstrated an impressive community to improve relations in his community, actively involved in charity fund raising and the debut of his own charity, My Hope UK Lanka Foundation in 1990 to donate essential school items to children. He has raised over £1.5 million for the Sri Lanka Tsunami Fund, collated £13,500 for the Sri Lanka Easter attack victims and donated 78 wheelchairs since May 2020 to help disabled people in Sri Lanka during the COVID pandemic.

Sujith has also provided essential sporting equipment for young athletes in Sri Lanka and London schools, volunteered with the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal Organisation, purchasing Christmas gifts annually for the children patients of Great Ormond Street Hospital through Christmas Donations and in his capacity working for Specsavers, helped to develop a supply network to provide optical glasses to people who cannot afford to buy them.

Commenting on his win, Sujith says: ‘I want to take this opportunity to extend my most sincere thanks for choosing me the ‘Local Community Hero of the Year’ as part of the BRISLA Awards 2020. This comes as a massive surprise and honour to me. It is a great privilege to receive an award from BRISLA. This award is not solely for me; it also goes to the many donors who have supported me and to the ground team in Sri Lanka who make it happen.’

Mr Sujith Weerasinghe

‘Our intention has always been to add value and help create a brighter future for disadvantaged people. Many times, their talents are overlooked, and all they need is a helping hand to help. We are all working towards the same goal, to make this world a better place by giving a ray of hope to those who need it most.’

Outstanding Achievement in the Professions:

The panel of judges, unanimously elected Julia Dias QC. Julia has promoted the important values that BRISLA aspires to, promoting unity in diversity and has been a beacon for the British Sri Lankan community.

Since 2009, Julia has been chairman of the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service Disciplinary Tribunals and is also a member of the Gibraltar Bar where her principal areas of practice are in international commercial arbitration, shipping, insurance, reinsurance and professional negligence, including associated jurisdiction disputes and injunctions.

Julia Dias QC

Julia states, ‘I am honoured to receive this award from BRISLA.  BRISLA’s aims of promoting unity and harmony and fostering co-operation and tolerance between diverse communities have perhaps never been more relevant than in today’s testing times, both in the UK and in Sri Lanka.  I applaud the work that BRISLA is doing in this area and am delighted if I have been able to assist even in a small way in achieving those objectives.’

Outstanding Contribution to Leadership:

Professor Nishan Canagarajah is the first Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester.  During his career, he has held a number of national roles that have helped to promote diversity and is currently a member of the UUK advisory group that tackles racial harassment in higher education and serves as a Commissioner for the Midlands Innovation Policy TALENT Policy Commission.

Professor Canagarajah says about his win: ‘I am honoured and humbled to receive the award for Outstanding Contribution to Leadership from BRISLA.  There is something incredibly powerful about being recognised by your own community. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah

I applaud your efforts to recognise the important and diverse contributions made by British Sri Lankans – in this way we celebrate our common heritage and our contribution to social cohesion, integration and prosperity in our adopted homeland.

I was born in Jaffna at the height of the conflict – it was a difficult time and we were of humble means. Both my parents were teachers and they instilled in me the value of education. It is priceless.

The important thing I also learnt is knowledge is power.  It has the power to change lives – and it changed mine.  I would not be receiving this recognition without that transformative power that changed the course of my life. I won a scholarship to Cambridge and pursued my interest in Engineering which took me around the world and has brought me to where I am today.

As the President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester I have set out a vision for the institution that is shaped by my past – my origins, knowledge and experience. I am determined to ensure Leicester takes its rightful place as a flagship institution in the UK for inclusivity, providing fair access to higher education opportunities for all.