Windrush Day honours the contributions of the Caribbean immigrants who travelled across to the United Kingdom between 1940s and 1970s to help rebuild Britain after the war and start a new life.
The term “Windrush” itself refers to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which docked in Tilbury on the 22nd of June 1948. The ship brought people from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, to help ease the shortage of workers caused by the devastation of WW2.
The Windrush Generation
My grandparents were born in the West Indies and by 1957, both became two of the estimated half a million people from Commonwealth countries who answered the call for migrant workers and headed to the UK.
My grandfather worked in a textile factory for over 30 years, whilst my grandmother trained as a nurse. Britain in the 1970s was a country short of workers in the NHS after the 2nd World War, and the new National Health Service encouraged people from the Caribbean to work within the sector.
Life in 1960’s Britain wasn’t easy for the new community of Black immigrants. Whilst their perception of the UK was initially positive up their arrival, they had to shoulder the weight of Britain’s institutional racism, often finding it hard to socialise peacefully. Black people were often banned from many clubs and bars and were marginalised in more affluent areas of the UK, because of prejudices based solely on the colour of their skin.
The resilience and power of both my grandparents, along with the shared support of the newly embedded Black community, allowed them to build a strong foundation here in Britain. Encouraging their children to be successful and prosper, whilst also educating them on the barriers they may face as Black people in the UK.
Despite being invited and encouraged to come to the UK, many of the Windrush generation have been subject to immigration challenges since the 1980s, with over 83 cases of wrongful deportation by the UK Home Office. In 2018, it was brought to light that a large portion of the Windrush generation’s original landing documentation had been destroyed in 2009. These documents were key pieces of evidence needed to prove an individual’s citizenship status. Without their documentation, many members of the Windrush generation and their children have lost jobs, been denied access to healthcare and made homeless, further exacerbating injustice.
Whilst it’s easy to recognise the successes and resilience of the Windrush generation, we must also consider the hardships and injustices which have followed, and continue to impact generations of Black people in Britain.
The Windrush Generation left behind their friends, family and all that was familiar to them in the West Indies, to help rebuild Britain and have become a part of its identity. It’s important that the Windrush generation is honoured as the generation that kept London and other cities moving and growing into the 21st century, helping make the UK the diverse country that we know and love today. I take enormous pride in acknowledging Windrush day for my family and I will continue to pass on this heritage to my own children.
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