Members of Sikh community defend right to celebrate religious festival after complaints over gathering of 200 people at Willen Lake in Milton Keynes
Last night's story and photos of a crowd of 200 people at Willen Lake caused an outcry on social media.
The MK Citizen has today received angry emails from members of the Sikh community, who say the day was a celebration of Baisakhi, one of the most important dates in their calendar.
They claim it was strictly socially distanced, with families forming individual groups, and Willen Lake management had no problems with them being there.
However, the Parks Trust, which runs Willen Lake, has confirmed this morning that no permission was given for the gathering.
One member of the MK Sikh community told the Citizen: "There was no one group and there was no party. Your news is singling out the group based on religion or race who happened to be there in Milton Keynes "
He said the photos published were "spreading hate online by ignorant people."
Baisakhi, also called Vaisakhi, is known as the harvest festival of Punjab and has great religious significance for the Sikhs, making the beginning of the Sikh New Year.
Known as the festival of food, love and kindness, it is celebrated with friends and traditional dishes of food.
It is understood a similar gathering took place at Emberton Park, where again no permission was given.
At Willen Lake, families started arriving in the morning and more joined at different times of the day. At its peak there were around 200 people but numbers started dwindling as dusk fell.
An ode to mother nature, Baisakhi is a spring harvest festival, often commemorated with food, love and kindness.
Another member of the Sikh community said: "April 13th is an important date in Sikh culture and Sikhs were merely celebrating this in the group of six or people from two household within government guidelines.
"To an outsider judging the crowd based on religion or race is not only morally wrong but unethical."
A third complainant said: "Everyone was keeping distance from each other and spending time with their families... You should not a community down like this."
One witness, however, described the event as a "mass picnic" and said people were "practically on top of each other".
"It was a massive gathering and nobody seemed to be social distancing at all. It was really worrying to see," he said.
It is understood the event was not an 'official' one, and was not organised through the main Sikh temple in Milton Keynes.
The Citizen can reveal that police were called to the event and several police cars were in attendance. Officers spoke to members of the gathering.
We have approached Thames Valley Police for a comment and await a response.
Meanwhile a spokesman for the Parks Trust said: "We’re aware of the large gathering that took place yesterday at Willen Lake. This gathering wasn’t authorised by us and we were unaware that these groups would be on site."
She added: "Our team spoke to these groups and asked them to abide by the current government guidelines and our rules regarding events. The police were also in attendance and took a measured approach asking these groups to stay within their household groups and maintain social distancing."
"If you are looking to hold an event at Willen Lake, you do require a license and approval to do so. All applications will be considered but they must comply with Government guidelines."
This morning Willen Lake staff have been on site cleaning up. The site managers, who have no power to disperse gatherings, decided to place extra Biffa bins around the site as a damage limitation exercise when they saw the number of people.