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.

Expressing appreciation and our gratitude to the NHS

In times of crisis residents in the UK reach for a cup of tea. More than ever our wellbeing is paramount as we face some of the most challenging times of this century.

The British Sri Lankan community in the UK with the luxury Ceylon Tea organisation Basilur Tea (UK) are trying to offer some relaxation to those working tirelessly round the clock.

Together, they joined forces this week to send 38,400 tea bags to NHS workers at the NHS Nightingale Hospital and the Barts Health NHS Trust in London, pursuing an idea generated by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, H.E. Saroja Sirisena. This gesture was to express immense gratitude to NHS workers treating COVID-19 sufferers.

The delivery consisted of eight varieties of Ceylon tea from Basilur’s Vergin Nature range.  The pyramid caffeine-free bags can make up to two mugs of tea, designed to be consumed without any milk.

Basilur UK-ST Dash Tea Ltd commented: “We know that NHS workers are experiencing very difficult and challenging times.  We all draw comfort from different things and a cup of tea can work wonders to rebalance the body and soul.  We know we are not changing the world here, but we wanted to do something within our capacity that would make a tiny difference.  However small this gesture, it expresses our gratitude for the NHS workers who are in all our minds.”

The British Sri Lankan Association (BRISLA) is privileged to carry out this activity.

BRISLA’s aim is to seek the common good by facilitating co-operation between the U.K. and Sri Lanka on economics, education, environmental factors and health affairs. It works to enhance and cultivate ties between the UK and Sri Lankan communities.

BRISLA states: “During this time of great challenge, all cultures and ethnicities are coming together.  The community spirit shown across the UK is wonderful to see and is something we have always actively encouraged and aimed to nurture.  Our world will be very different when this crisis is over but we do hope it will have taught us to respect our neighbours and how, when we pull together, we come out of a crisis stronger and united.”

BRISLA Awards 2020 – Diversity and unity awards seek the next generation of role models

BRISLA who are supporting the British Sri Lankan community in the UK is appealing to the next generation of role models to enter the 2020 BRISLA (British Sri Lankan Association) Awards.

Returning for a 6th year, the Awards honour the hard work and dedication of individuals and organisations that embody BRISLA’s mission to achieve a cohesive, fair and prosperous society.

For 2020, the BRISLA Awards will focus on today’s visionaries and tomorrow’s upcoming BRISLA champions.

Dr Zimar Sivardeen, Chair of the not-for-profit organisation, says a new focus that celebrates and spots new, emerging visionaries is essential for BRISLA as we go into the next decade.

Dr Sivardeen comments:  ‘The 2020 Awards will rightly recognise the tireless of work of many established organisations and individuals who have invested their time over the years to instigate positive change.’

‘But we also want to use our Awards stage to inspire the next generation coming through.  The next decade will see significant changes in how we trade in a post-Brexit world, and promoting unity and celebrating diversity will remain more paramount.’

Mrs Chani Simms, Secretary of BRISLA is aware how pivotal the next generation will be as they take on the baton from established BRISLA supporters in the years to come.

Chani adds: ‘It’s important we inspire and support them and the BRISLA Awards provides the perfect stage for us to do this.

‘Their vision for future years needs to be heard and we expect to be impressed by their approaches that will no doubt utilise new technologies and communications strategies to achieve their goals.  By bringing together BRISLA veterans and new emerging talent, we expect to create a new and exciting dynamic at our 2020 Awards ceremony.’

The BRISLA Awards’ categories provides a platform to celebrate and recognise both individuals and organisations who have achieved a commercial goal that benefits the Sri Lankan community right through to improving life quality for those less fortunate.

This year, the Awards will be hosted on 16th October at the House of Lords in London.

The Award Categories are as follows

  • Outstanding Achievement in the Professions
  • Outstanding Young British Sri Lankan of the Year
  • Outstanding Friend to the BRISLA community
  • Outstanding Contribution to Leadership
  • Outstanding Contribution to Innovation
  • Lifetime Achievement Award

This special award recognises members of the BRISLA community who have dedicated their lives to their field, and have achieved great things. As with all of the BRISLA awards, we are particularly looking for those who have had an impact on the BRISLA values of unity, cooperation, peace and inclusion.

Dr Zimar Sivardeen concludes: ‘Each year, we are always impressed by the amazing entries and on the night, everyone in the room is always galvanised and inspired to keep the momentum going with their fantastic work to create harmonious, inclusive communities.  With the addition of fresh, younger talent in the room, we expect 2020 to be our best year yet.’

Please send your nominations to any Members of the Executive Committee members or Dr Zimar Sivardeen on

BRISLA Awards 2019 – Winners Announced

BRISLA (The British Sri Lankan Association) hosted this year’s annual BRISLA Awards event on the Saturday 19th October 2019 in Westminster close to Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

This event brings the best minds and the most passionate individuals who will play an ever-increasing role in promoting unity and celebrating diversity.

Says Dr. Zimar Sivardeen, Founder and Chair who proceeded over the judging process and hosted the evening:

“With every award, there was a golden thread running through them.  A vision, a commitment to make a difference and tenacity to make it happen. On our own, we can sometimes feel ineffective.  But when we come together in an event like this, we can see how every small step helps to shift a few mindsets or brings together a small group of people who were not united before.  When you add up all these movements – small, medium and large – we can believe we are making a difference.”

“Every Award presented on the night acted as a stark reminder to us all that our unified efforts to promote diversity and encourage unity amongst people of all faiths is paramount and indeed, essential.”

BRISLA is a non-profit organisation that aims to facilitate cooperation and build partnerships between the UK and Sri Lanka around issues including education, environmental factors, health affairs and promoting sustainable development.

Each year, a prestigious Award evening is held to reward individuals and organisations that strive for diversity and social cohesion in today’s challenging society.  This year, the annual event was held at the Conrad St. James Hotel, Westminster and in attendance were Her Royal Highness Princess Katarina, Mr Nirj Deva DL, the Lord Sheikh, H.E. Manisha Gunasekera and Jason Kouchak.

Dr. Sivardeen used the Awards evening as a platform to remind the audience that every individual has a role to play; to tackle and debate intolerance where possible, and recognise the power and strength diversity plays in today’s society.

Says Dr. Sivardeen on the night: “It was an honour and humbling experience to judge the Awards.  Everyone should be proud of their stellar work.”

 The 2019 BRISLA Awards winners are:

Outstanding Achievement in the Legal Field sponsored by Specsavers Opticians.

Presented by The Rt Hon Lord Justice Dingemans Judge of the Court of Appeal.

Winner: Harendra de Silva QC

Outstanding Achievement in Academia sponsored by GrowTraffic Ltd.

Presented by Her Royal Highness Princess Katarina.

Winner: Professor Parosha Chandran

Excellence in Community Development sponsored by Research Intelligence Unit.

Presented by Venerable Dhammadassi Thera from Kingsbury Vihara.

Winner: Mr Ambalavanar Sathianathan

Excellence in Outstanding Leadership Award sponsored by John Keells Properties and Cinnamon Life.

Presented by Brigadier Alex Potts, Chief of Staff, Headquarters Regional Command, Aldershot.

Winner: Her Excellency Ms. Manisha Gunasekera

Lifetime Achievement Award sponsored by Indocean Developers (Pvt) the promoters of Altair.

Presented by Revd. Prof. Rob Gilbert.

Winner: Mr. Niranjan Deva DL

Outstanding Friend to the British Sri Lankan Community sponsored by Al Rayan Bank

Presented by Jason Kouchak, pianist and composer.

Winner: The Lord Sheikh

The winners act as role models to our neighbours, our communities, and the next generation.  We are only a chapter and we need to inspire the people of tomorrow to continue this story.

Watch highlights of the BRISLA Awards 2019 courtesy of Islam Channel

Performance for Peace – Reflections and Prayer in Unity and Hope

Rev John Whitaker, Jason Kouchak and Dr Zimar Sivardeen

In May, BRISLA organised the Performance for Peace: Reflections and Prayer in Unity and Hope at St Mary’s Church, Putney following the tragic events in Easter in Sri Lanka.

The event, organised in co-ordination with leading international musician Jason Kouchak and friends, provided an environment to reflect and remember the lives lost and the importance of unity with diversity. The ceremony was attended by a diverse representation of distinguished guests from across all faiths and communities including diplomatic missions, religious representatives and leading social leaders including Mr Nirj Deva, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London

Speaking at the event, Dr Zimar Sivardeen, Chairman of BRISLA, spoke of the importance of dialogue and cultural understanding between communities as an important tool to build social engagement and inclusion. The ceremony included a moment of reflection followed by a beautiful performance from Jason Kouchak and supporting musicians. A summary of Dr Sivardeen’s speech is available to download with the full speech available on the YouTube video above.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Further speakers at the event included Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, who spoke of his personal religious upbringing and the importance of diversity and community.

H.E. Manisha Gunasekera with Reverend John Whittaker

H.E. Manisha Gunasekera, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the United Kingdom, also spoke of the importance of international collaboration in building communities and social inclusion. This was supported by speeches from the Mayors of Wandsworth and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and Mr Imtiaz Ahmed and Father Michael O’Dean.

Jason Kouchak and the talented musicians at the Performance for Peace

The event ended with the lighting of ceremonial candles to support the reflection and represent the role of cohesion between communities.

Agenda of the Performance for Peace


Message from BRISLA following the tragic Easter Sunday events in Sri Lanka

We express our sadness at the acts of barbarity in Sri Lanka during the holy Easter Sunday. 

We would like to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to all those affected; worshippers of Christian faith during the holy Easter weekend, and individuals and families – both local and from overseas, who lost their lives. Our thoughts are also with the unfortunate members of all communities who were injured and who experienced this terrible scene.

We would like to thank the work of the emergency services and those who voluntarily donated blood during this tragic period.

These shameful and despicable attacks transcend politics and policies; belief and non-belief.

It is now more important than ever to highlight the objectives that BRISLA promotes; unity with diversity.

Moving forward, it is imperative that all of us from diverse origins join together in a spirit of peace and seek harmony.

We, as members of humanity, of all faiths and no faith, must stand together against these atrocities.

BRISLA Awards 2018 – Winners Announced

The BRISLA Awards celebrates local champions who embody BRISLA’s mission to achieve a cohesive, fair and prosperous society. Those shortlisted ahead of the evening were able to demonstrate to BRISLA how they had excelled in this quest and rightly earned their right to attend the prestigious awards thanks to their fantastic work within their own sphere.

Watch a video from the event kindly produced by Islam Channel

The winners were praised for their commitment by Dr Sivardeen, who opened the evening’s awards with an engaging speech.

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, Wasim Khan MBE, CEO of Leicestershire Cricket Club, H.E. James Dauris British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Ambassador to the Maldives and H.E. Sugeeshwara Gunaratna, Acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK delivered enthralling speeches relating to leadership, diversity and relations between the UK and Sri Lanka.

Guests in attendance at the Awards witnessed six overall winners receive their Outstanding Achievement and Contribution accolade across a four focus areas of:  Healthcare; Literary Arts; Performing Arts and; Entrepreneurship.

Two special awards of Lifetime Achievement and Outstanding Friend to the British Sri Lankan were also crowned winners on the night.

The BRISLA 2018 winners:

  • Outstanding Achievement in Healthcare: Professor Karim Meeran

o   sponsored by Research Intelligence Unit

o   presented by The Worshipful The Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames

  • Outstanding contribution to Literary Arts: Mr. Michael Roc Thomas

o   sponsored by Olympia Clinic

o   presented by The Worshipful The Mayor of Harrow

  • Outstanding contribution to Performing Arts sponsored by St James’s Place Wealth Management: Miss. Dilini Seneviratne

o   Presented by H.E. Sugeeshwara Gunaratna, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to UK

  • Lifetime achievement award sponsored by Al Rayan Bank: Dr. Desmond Biddulph CBE:

o   presented by Wasim Khan MBE, CEO of Leicestershire Cricket Club.

  • Entrepreneur of the Year: Mr. Des Gunawardena

o   Sponsored by Specsavers Opticians

o   Presented by Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor at Buckingham University

  • Outstanding Friend to the British Sri Lankan community: The Rt Hon. the Lord Naseby:

o   Sponsored by GrowTraffic Limited

o   Presented by H.E. James Dauris, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Ambassador to Maldives

Dr Sivardeen commented on the Awards evening:  ‘These pioneering awards pay tribute to the amazing work and dedication of secret heroes and this evening was about saying thank you and acknowledging the impact they all have.

‘BRISLA was established over four years ago, and we have made great strides in our mission to promote diversity and integration in our community.  But there is still a way to go, particularly now in unsettling times ahead of Brexit.

‘The Awards evening also gave us the opportunity to shine a light on our vision for 2019, and galvanise everyone in the room to maintain momentum with their fantastic work to create harmonious, inclusive communities.’

Mrs Chani Simms, secretary of BRISLA added:  ‘It has been a very humbling evening to hear people’s stories and learn about their resilience and commitment to create a diverse, united world.  Each shortlisted candidate knows that if we are to achieve this, it starts at a grass roots level and it was a delight to see individuals rewarded for their efforts. I applaud and congratulate everyone who made it through to the short-list.  You are all winners in my eyes.’

Dr Sivardeen concludes:  ‘The best way for our organisation to evolve and learn is to be inspired by others, and the evening delivered this with aplomb.  I, with my BRISLA attendees, leave the evening feeling inspired and with a renewed sense of purpose.’


Event Photos: