Celebrating the Windrush generation

(c) 3di Associates

(c) 3di Associates

One of the most moving moments in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics Games was the arrival in the stadium of a giant model of the Empire Windrush: it symbolized the hundreds of thousands of black Britons who migrated from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands between 1948 and 1971 as a response to post-war labour shortage in Britain.

That specific part of the historical pageant directed by Danny Boyle was called “Pandemonium” and represented the social developments from the Industrial Revolution to the 1960s, bringing on stage some of the groups that had changed the face of Britain during that period: the suffragettes, soldiers in the First and Second World Wars, members of the Jarrow Crusade, NHS nurses and doctors amongst others.

The presence of Caribbean immigrants amongst the major characters of Modern Britain was indeed a symbol of a more inclusive and open society, which recognises the contribution of the Windrush Generation as an integral part of the national history and culture.

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case, and for many decades the experience of being a West- Indian immigrant in the UK was characterised by misconception and discrimination, while the contribution of the Caribbean community to the British culture was increasingly overlooked and underestimated.

Even after the celebration of the Windrush at the Olympics games, things have not been easy for the Windrush generation: more recently many who arrived in the UK as British subjects before 1971 have been denied their rights to live and work in the UK and have been threatened with deportation, because they were not able to provide the correct documentation and evidence of their citizenship and their right to move to the UK more than 40 years ago, when their countries of origin where still part of the Empire. The Government has now apologised for this.  

Many felt like “invisible” despite having been here for more than sixty years. As a consequence of this controversy, and to offer a positive way forward, in 2018 the Government offered compensation to all those involved, support for obtaining citizenship and also promoted on the 22nd of June every year a national day of celebration for the Windrush generation and their descendants.

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Near Neighbours will take part in these celebrations: two of the small grants that we have awarded this year are for two community events (in Birmingham and Luton) on Windrush Day (Saturday 22nd June) to celebrate the contribution of the black Caribbean community to life and culture in the UK.

In Luton, the Bury Park Beech Hill Council of Churches, which brings together a group of Christian churches of different denominations, in an area religiously and culturally diverse, with a very high level of deprivation and poverty, will organise an afternoon event, with Caribbean-inspired entertainments and refreshments.

Many Caribbean immigrants settled in that specific area in the 1950s and 1960s and they still live there, while their descendant have largely moved away, replaced by people of South Asian origin. This co-existencehas not always been easy and the aim of the event is also to enable mutual exchanges and build new relationships across different groups.

The organisers will also aim to build on the success of this event “With each suitcase, began a story”, and set up a series of small gatherings where members of the Windrush Generation will meet with specific local groups (i.e. Luton Irish Forum) to promote a wider appreciation about the history, the value, and the contribution of Caribbean immigration in the UK.

More info here.

Similarly, the event in Birmingham will be organised in a very diverse area, Handsworth, where approximately 100 different languages are spoken by local residents.

The whole day event, led by the African Caribbean community, will provide a safe space for conversation, engagement, remembrance, celebration and raising awareness of food, music, culture of the Windrush generation and would be an opportunity for some of them who still live in the area to share their own memories with their neighbours.

In addition to promote a wider knowledge of the history of the Windrush generation and strengthen the relationship between different groups in the local community, the event would also address the issue of isolation and exclusion for the elderly, as many of the Caribbean immigrants are now pensioners and do not have many opportunities for socialising and reaching out to the wider community.

More info here.

Both events are going to be a great moment of celebration of the Windrush generation and an opportunity to bring people together not only to learn about recent historical events but also to know their neighbours and to understand their personal experience.

Lazzaro Pietragnoli