Devi Dayal Sharma grew up in Chandigarh in India and after completing his BA degree from Punjab University, arrived in Yorkshire in 1964, with the intention of studying at Leeds University. However he felt unhappy on the course and a chance meeting in a pub led to him abandoning his studies and starting work. He remembers, "Joe Marsden offered me a job as a Cost Clerk at his engineering company. He told me they had never given an office job to any Indian person before but he wanted to give me a chance." Dayal rapidly proved his worth and soon he was in charge of the Cost Office before he became Ethnic Minorities Recruitment Officer. As part of this promotion the company sent Dayal to evening classes for the HNC in Business Studies at Bradford & Ilkley Community College.
"Course Tutor Glyn Roberts and the other lecturers were very good to me. I remember being pulled up for submitting an essay when I didn't write the correct spelling of 'business'! There were around thirty students on the course and after we had finished our classes in Westbrook we enjoyed a good social life. Tutors suggested that I should go into the Diplomatic Corps and so I applied to the Civil Service. I passed the entrance exams and interview and was given the choice of becoming either an Assistant Collector of Taxes or a Revenue Officer. I chose the latter as I thought it sounded more important than being an assistant!
I stayed with the Civil Service and eventually became Custodian of Repositories at the Record Office in Frizinghall. In those days there were no computers and all records were handwritten. There were six or seven staff and thousands of records on file as there were more people in employment at that time. Offices sent requests and we would match old and new tax records. They later found asbestos in the building and we were transferred to Crossgates in Leeds, where it was so cold we had to wear gloves in winter!" But Dayal's flair for people and commitment to the local community soon became apparent.
"In 1976 I became a part-time presenter on Pennine Radio where I widened my social acquaintances. I became good friends with two Bradford College Principals and I later spent four years as a College Governor. I used to have lunch every week with Eric Robinson who was really advanced for his time. When Paul Gallagher took over he was a fantastic influence. He helped me when I formed the Institute of Asian Business in 1987, where I worked to regenerate the local economy through the establishment of new businesses. I was initially seconded for two years from the Inland Revenue to be Director, which turned out to be the longest paid secondment in the English Civil Service – nineteen years! I then formed another organisation, Euro Asian Resource, whose educational projects included a number of events on climate change and the environment and also work with the British Army to encourage young people from ethnic minorities to enlist."
Dayal completed a Post–Graduate Diploma in Race Relations at Bradford University and worked with numerous organisations to promote communication and harmony among communities. Dayal served on Bradford Council's Race Relations Advisory Council and the Management Committee of Bradford Law Centre. He also worked extensively with West Yorkshire Police, founding and later chairing the Minorities Police Liaison Committee.
Dayal has also made an important contribution to the cultural life of the city. He has been at the forefront of Bradford's Hindu Cultural Society for decades, serving as Secretary, Chairman of the Trustees and their longest acting President. During Dayal's thirteen years of broadcasting at Pennine Radio he interviewed many national and international political figures including Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto. He also worked for Yorkshire Television as an advisor and initiated the showing of Indian movies. Along with Choudhary Rangzeb and Faisal Mahmood, he was one of the main organisers of the prestigious Civic delegation which visited India, Pakistan and Kashmir in March 2007.
Although he retired in 1999 from the Civil Service Dayal has continued to work tirelessly on a voluntary basis as part of his determination to repay the kindness he has been shown and he is currently the CEO of the Centre for Politics and Public Participation which he founded in 2006. "We want to bring young people into civic responsibilities, teach them how to be responsible citizens instead of wasting their time on the streets. It is about bringing young people from deprived communities into full participation in society. My philosophy is all about give and take. What Britain has given to immigrants should be paid back across the racial boundaries.
When I came to this country I shared a flat on Manchester Road with Robert and Jack and their parents, Hugh and Edith 'adopted' me. When I got married Hugh wallpapered and carpeted my house and later Hugh and Edith treated my own children like grandchildren. They welcomed me, stood by me and the third generation of our families are still close. Britain as a whole is a very tolerant society. Some people misuse the system but I want to tell everyone, wherever they are from, that this is your country, be part of it and make it better. Everyone needs a sense of belonging. We want to dispel stereotypes and replace miscommunication with dialogue, get people together and break down barriers."
Dayal received an honorary MA from the University of Bradford in 1990. He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Bradford Council in 2007 and was awarded the MBE for services to the community in 2007.