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A GlimpseContact from the past 

(By M I Tabassum the Founder of  Aakash)

Some Unforgettable memories 16 June 1999 to 8 October 2006.

The Aakash, a very special place, has been described as the Eighth Wonder of the World. However, it wasn't always so.

I'd like to tell you our story - a story of the near death and rebirth of a beautiful elegant old building. A place of worship was first established on the site in 1710.

Let us travel back in time to the mid Victorian era when the honorable aldermen of the mill town of Cleckheaton needed a place to worship. In 1857-59, designed by the famous family of architect Lockwood & Mawson, the Congregational Chapel of Cleckheaton was born. An imposing three - story building of golden stone with gleaming mahogany fittings, a horseshoe gallery supported on cast iron pillars, bidding goodwill to all men. Fast forward to 1959, the golden stone was soot stained, and by the 1980s,  the congregation had dwindled and eventually the chapel was abandoned. By the 1990s it was wrecked, vandalized, semi-derelict, humbled by rot and decay, and inhabited by pigeons. In 1997 The English Heritage Foundation were so concerned about it that the building was placed on the "AT Risk" register.

At about the same time as this sad old building was dying, I was discussing a new business venture with my brother, Mr Aslam Parvaiz, and two very close friends of mine, Mr Abdul Qudoos Khan and Mr Parvaiz Qureshi. At the end of 1997 and into the beginning of 1998, I was in the business of importing sports goods in to England from the far East, India and Pakistan. At that time business had taken a downturn and I had no choice but to consider other options. Indian food is exceptionally popular in England; some Indian foods are now even considered a National British dish! We thought it wood be a good idea to open an Indian Restaurant, but it wood have to be different; somewhere customers would feel proud to be seen, a restaurant like no other.

We thought that if we found a really special old building in exciting surroundings, then that would be an ideal place to start. Of course we would also need excellent service, outstanding food and highly professional staff, but without a home we could not even start on the rest, so we started to look for our dream building and location.

We, Mr Parvaiz Qureshi and I looked all over. We went to York, we went to Liverpool, we went to the Lake District, but all without any luck. We could not find what we were looking for. One day I heard about a Golf Club for sale in Dewsbury. We decided to go and see it. On the way to Dewsbury on Bradford Road, just before Cleckheaton Town Centre, we saw an old Victorian building, standing very quietly on our left. "Gosh! Tabassum Bhai (brother), look at this wonderful building. If we could get hold of this old Chapel, our desperate search can end here", Mr Parvaiz Qureshi said to me.aakash1

We stopped our car in front of the building and got out to take a look around. Even though the building was in quite a dilapidated state, the overall structure was intact and was still very impressive. We looked at it with wonder and longing. After a few minuttes, we left the building and continued on our journey. It was little more than wishful thinking, but we left with a feeling that this building and location would be perfact for what we had in our mind.

When we arrived at Dewsbury, we met with the owner, Mr tom Senior, and looked around. Though the site was very good, it was not suitable for our purpose. We politely told Mr Senior that unfortunately this site was not quite what we had in our mind.

Mr Senior asked us what we were looking for in terms of the building and location. When we explained him about our requirement, he suggested that we must take a look at an alternative building he had that was in Cleckheaton. Our hearts started pounding at the mentioned of Cleckheaton, and it became difficult to hide our excitement as he continued to describe the place. Without trying to seem over eager , we immediately accepted his offer to view the building with him. It was to our absolute delight that it turned out to be the same building we had stopped at earlier! 

When we entered in to the building! what a mess. I could see right through the roof, and inside all I could see was debris and rubbish. But somehow I knew, I had found our home. I fell in love with the old building. Despite her lamentable conditioned she made me very welcome. I knew, it would take a lot of money, a lot of work and an immense amount of courage but the architecture, the design inspired me that this was the building I was looking for. 

You can say that my search to find a suitable building for Aakash was over. But I knew that the work to bring Aakash's dream in to reality actually has begun. This was not going to be easy. I only had  minimal experience of catering business but my brother and couple of friends involved had restaurants so between us we had relevent experience in the field. We studied the area and looked in to it in a lot of detail to see if it would be viable. Cleckheaton is not large. The town alone could not support our restaurant but then we realized that it was less than a mile from the M62, the main motorway which crosses the north of England. This put it about 15 minutes from Bradford, less than half an hour from Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield, and slightly more to Manchester and York - all major cities in the north, this was encouraging, as people like to come out and make an occasion of an evening out. We would prvide secure car parking, spectacular surroundings, outstanding service, world - class food. We could do this. So we finalized our team and with a certain degree of confidence and absolute belief in our project I approached some high street banks. Nothing! They didn't want to know. While I was strugling to arrange finance for my project a very close friend of mine Mr Darshan Singh Sachdeve  a promenant businessman from Delhi India came to visit me. During his stay with me I told him about my project and my prblem he smiled and taped on my shoulder and said don't worry Mr Tabassum I think I can help you there.

Next day we went to London and he took me to the Head office of The Bank of India. Where we met the bank's Cheif Executive of european Branches. I found him a very nice, an experience, and professional person. All the time during our conversation with him he kept staring at me as he was scaning my actual thoughts. When we finished our meeting with him he told us to go and see local branch Manager at their Manchester Branch.

Next day we went to meet the local branch manager in Manchester. Again the manager was a very nice and understanding person. He knew why were we there. It did not take long to convince him once I had presented my ideas. He decided to visit the site soon, which he did. He saw our sad, decrepit old building and he too fell in love with her.  He came back couple of times more and then brought the bank's Chief Executive, we had some discussions and he decided to put his trust in me and would finance the project.

Having got the finance in place, we now needed planning permission. And what a saga that turned out to be. Dealing with any bureaucratic department is a nightmare but we were dealin with several at once - the local council, police, fire authority, English Heritage and environment. When we got agreement from some of them there would be one that did not agree. This went on for eighteen and half months. We had only managed to keep going because the Bank of India had enough confidnence in my project to extend the loan facilities three times. I was just about to give up when I tried one last thing and asked the head of planning, Mr Keith Faragher, to come and see this building which I was trying to save. We had no grants, no help from government and were trying to do this on our own efforts.

So he came and looked at the state of the building, the projections and the new life which awaited for this dying building. It took only five minutes for Mr Faragher to decide. He gave me his assurance that he would give us his support. So after impatientley waiting for eighteen and half months it came down to five minutes and we were on our way and could start on the work. We continued to have problems. In about November 2000 it was an exceptionally wet month with a lot of storm, rain, flooding at the time we were trying to work on the building, the car park, the landscaping but hit delay after delay  because of the bad weather. We had to put our opening date back three times but eventually the big day arrived, the golden stone gleamed again and our wonderful old buildingonce more survived the craggy West Yorkshire landscape with pride and we opened  on July 9th 2001. The Aakash was open by Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire John Lyles and this was followed by a Royal visit by the Duke of Kent on November 2nd.

It was my biggest dream to build a largest Indian restaurant in the world which I finally achieved on the 13th of July 2001. My dream would not have been accomplished without the help of my family and friends who maintained their full support during this pain taking projection. I would like to say a special thank you to my friend Mr Darshan Sing Sachdev (from Dellhi India) and most of all Mr Venu Gopallan (C.E. of European branches) Bank of India for their assistant, aid and encouragement. I would also like to thank Mr Saeed Ahmed Patel manager, Mr Narrender Patel assistant manager at Manchester branch of Bank of India, without their belief, trust, help and patience this project would have been dead in the water and this magnificent Victorian Chapel built in 1859 would still be derelict and abundant.

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