Hundreds gathered on Saturday for the opening of Epping Forest's newest and biggest Hindu centre.

Situated on the High Road just up from the independent Chigwell School, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a satellite of London's vast central temple in Neasden.

With a growing number of Hindus moving out of the East End and into Essex, the hunt for a new site suitable for the population out of London was embarked upon nearly 15 years ago.

In October 2016 - after much searching - the Chigwell plot was purchased.

Following nearly two years of intensive construction work, on Saturday the building was opened to the public in a ceremony attended by Epping Forest MP, Eleanor Laing.

Girish Patel, who does community liaison work for the centre, said: "It was a great day, and on Sunday 200 to 250 people will come to our first service.

"Some from Chigwell, but the majority from Redbridge."

While the centre's primary purpose is to provide spiritual guidance and a place for the Hindu population of Epping Forest and east London to meet, Mr Patel is determined that it will form a valuable part of the Chigwell community.

The chartered accountant said: "When we bought the site I joined the residents group straight away.

"It is an important part of our culture that we let other people in and that we do not make people feel uncomfortable."

As part of that effort, the centre will be occupied by volunteers seven days a week who will show visitors around and in 2019 worshippers will raise money for the Chigwell Riding Trust.

Parents dropping off their children at the nearby school have been offered parking in the centre's large car park, alongside sports facilities that will be available for use in the future.

Mr Patel added: "It is our duty, it is more to do with that than being popular.

"We want to be part of the community.

"We will not close our doors to anyone who is a genuine visitor."

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