Windrush Day 2022

Windrush Day was introduced in June 2018 on the 70th anniversary of the arrival of Empire Windrush in recognition and honour of the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants and to keep their legacy alive for future generations, ensuring that we all celebrate the diversity of Britain’s history.

To celebrate, Anti Racist Cumbria are sharing some stories and thoughts of FOUR Windrush generations, all with a connection to Cumbria in some way, playing our own small part in keeping the legacy alive.  

Windrush Stories - 4 Generations

Alison Bennison came to the UK in 1961 from Barbados, aged just 19 years old. A film involving her life here was aired on the CBBC channel last year and although it doesn’t tell her whole story, it highlights the reason she came to the UK and acknowledges her achievements as a nurse.
Her granddaughter, Lindsey (who you’ll hear more from later), says Alison was SO proud to be a nurse. So many like Alison came after the war to help Britain rebuild, working mainly in our NHS, manufacturing, construction and our transport systems. The majority of those who came to the UK had previously worked in skilled positions and had excellent qualifications. To say they didn’t have an easy time is an understatement. Many found it difficult to find work and had to accept jobs they were over-qualified for and opportunities for promotion and access to better paid jobs with more responsibility were generally off limits due to discriminatory and racist attitudes of employers.
Alison sadly passed away earlier this year. We are honoured to know that her story was able to be told before she died.
Like so many of the Windrush Generation, she was a true pioneer and can proudly say she was amongst the founders of Britain’s black communities who made their homes in unfamiliar towns and cities across the UK, including here in the north.
Last month, the Black British Stories series which Alison’s film is part of, won  Best Online Education Resource at The Learning on Screen Awards. Tonight (on Windrush Day 2022 itself) it is nominated for The Young Audience Awards at the Sandford St Martin Awards. We will update this article once we know the results and we wish all who made this nomination possible the very best of luck.
Despite the hardships and the racism they faced, we must always remember that the #WindrushGeneration not only flourished in the face of everything thrown at them, but that they overcame it and contributed to making Britain more than it could ever imagine it could be.
Rest in Power Alison Bennison, Grandma, Mum, Nurse🖤

Author: Anne-Marie Bainbridge

Thoughts About Windrush from a Second Generation Windrush Girl

Windrush has been spinning around my head these last few weeks. It is my legacy and it has been troubling me.

My Mum came to England on a ship into Southampton on a cold November in 1959. She was 24 years old and had come to finish her nurse training. I can only imagine what this young Jamaican woman must have felt leaving everything she knew behind her for a cold uninviting place in the dead of winter.

My Mum & Dad

I grew up hearing the stories from her and my Dad, who followed a year later, of the hostility and blatant racism they dealt with on daily basis – from the vicar who drew his hand away rather than shake my Dad’s hand, the landlady who sent hostile looks to my Mum because she had the audacity to ask my Dad to ask the landlady to remove the coal she stored in her bath, so that my Mum could use it and was making threatening moves towards baby me until she spotted my Dad, to the British Rail Office Manager who expressed surprise that my Dad was intelligent enough to do the bookkeeping despite being a civil servant back home in Jamaica.

Despite what we would recognise today as microaggressions, myself, my younger brother and sister had a wonderful childhood. We moved from a house we shared with my Auntie and Uncle in North London (very common for West Indian families at the time as those signs ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs’ were very much a reality) to a house they bought for £4,000 in Ilford, Essex in 1965. If you have seen any of those photographs, programmes or a wonderful exhibition at the Museum of the Home in East London you will recognise what our home looked like in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s – we had a radiogram in the front room which we were banned from playing in (I remember my brother throwing a ball at me for some slight or other and it skidding across one of my Dad’s precious vinyl records, not a good move for my brother!).

My Dad with my Brother and I

I remember Mum and Dad always having parties and me not wanting to go to bed in case I missed anything (I definitely understand where my ‘night owl’ nature comes from).  On Saturday it was always either Saturday Soup or Stew Peas (my favourite), on Sundays my Dad would have his friends over for dominoes and Wray & Nephew White Rum which meant the dominoes got louder and louder as the afternoon went on! In the summer my Dad would spend hours watching the West Indies playing cricket. I could never understand exactly how it worked until Dad, having explained it to me for the umpteenth time, it suddenly clicked and I subsequently enjoyed many hours watching it with him. As I got to my late teens I started to go out partying and clubbing with my friends – a large group of us would enjoy going to parties and some clubs, mainly in East London that played our favourite music Lovers Rock, Rare Groove (as it’s now called) and Jazz Funk (all music I still love today). I also used to go to live concerts which were fabulous. Although at times life was hard, we never wanted for anything and always knew we were loved. 

I feel extremely proud to be the daughter of Raphael and Shirley Senior – they experienced so many challenges coming to England at the ages of 24 and 27, facing huge amounts of blatant, in-your-face racism, they had successful careers, Dad being a diplomat and then managing the London Office of Air Jamaica before they stopped flying from London and Mum being a District Nurse before becoming a University Lecturer. This in turn inspired myself and my siblings to become high achievers in our respective careers. The other important thing they instilled in us all was a sense of questioning and fighting any injustice that we see, we are all very vocal in that respect and that is definitely our legacy from Mum and Dad.

I’ve been reading (listening) to ‘The Windrush Betrayal’ by Amelia Gentleman which is powerful and harrowing in equal measure, sharing countless stories of people whose lives have been devastated by the hostile environment perpetrated to ensure that law abiding citizens who have lived, worked, paid their taxes and raised their children here in the UK for practically all their lives have been made to feel they don’t belong.

Many have been sent back and others have died fighting for their right to stay. It’s horrible to think that despite Amber Rudd’s apology, Theresa May’s promise to right the wrongs of what she created, and Priti Patel’s assertion that she has overhauled the Windrush Compensation Scheme only a handful have actually received any compensation and the system has barely improved so mistakes are still coming to light all the time. 

My Dad had himself and my Mum naturalised in 1983 because he didn’t trust the authorities, otherwise I’ve no doubt their story (and mine too) could well have been part of Amelia’s book.

Me & my Mum

Written by Lindsey Atkinson, 3rd Generation Windrush.

Alison Bennison, my Grandma

5 years ago I had no idea who the Windrush generation were. 

I’d already dedicated 29 years of my life to loving and celebrating my beautiful grandma in my own way. I knew her history, but not the wider context that her journey sat within.

I’ve been in love with my grandma my whole life… so much so that when I moved to university (the furthest I’d ever been away from her other than when she visited Barbados) 

I missed her so much that I made my whole degree show about her wonderful life.

Grandma at my degree show, all about her!

A few years later I had an interview for my job at Tullie House Museum and I remember talking about how I used my grandma’s belongings and photographs to celebrate and remember where she came from. I got the job, and a few months in I was asked to plan a Black History Month event with AWAZ and speakeasy. I took my grandma’s suitcase and some of her belongings along to the event in case anyone was interested in learning about her … and they were (I mean, how could you not be!).

While researching Black History in this country I read the words ‘Between 1948 and 1970, nearly half a million people moved from the Caribbean to Britain…’ and it clicked that they were talking about my grandma. 

Finally, after all these years of not seeing my grandma’s history anywhere, I was reading about it.  

Thanks to M-Unit, in 2018 my grandma’s portrait was displayed inside a museum for the first time. 

As my grandma grew older, I realised she’d never really been thanked or acknowledged for her achievements. She’d not had an easy childhood and she didn’t know anyone here. My grandma worked twice as hard as the other nurses to complete her nursing degree and was the only Black nurse in the county for a long time. She was a kind and fun-loving person and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her family. 

I’d learned about how other Windrush members and descendants had been treated and I grew more disheartened and angry. I started to reflect upon my grandma’s history and the Black history that was documented around me.. in the art galleries and museums I loved, the TV I watched, and in the media. I soon realised there was a major problem… it wasn’t really there.  

Then in 2020 I was talking about the Black Memories Matter project on ITV border news and I was spotted. 

The BBC contacted me and it led to them making a film about my grandma’s life and career, which you’ve maybe seen?

By the point the BBC filmed her, she was too poorly to talk and the only way to tell her story was through me. She told me what to say and luckily, she felt well enough to get dressed and make a super quick appearance. 

My grandma passed away one year after the film was made but lived to see it broadcast on TV. 

I will always treasure her film as it captures something she’s very proud of and the reason I’m here today – her nursing career. When I google her name, I now see her smiling back at me and I feel enormously proud that her history is being used for education.

As a third-generation Windrush girl… I can’t imagine my life without my grandma’s influence. All I have is so much love, so much gratitude, and so much colour. 

My heritage may not be visible in my skin or my hair, but I’ll always stay connected to my grandma and our ancestors through my grandma’s legacy, our family, our memories, and our music. As for my identity, I suppose I’ve been a bit confused over the years. Some people have referred to me as Black, some go for mixed-race, and some white. I feel kind of sad that I’m not recognisable as someone with Black heritage because I think it’s the best thing about me and it’s like a huge part of me is not seen. Since my grandma died, I can’t bring myself to straighten out my frizzy hair, in case I’m erasing a tiny part of my grandma. If I thought her hair was beautiful, then why should I change mine? That might sound silly, but I suppose sharing that helps to communicate how important it is for me to carry my heritage with me and never forget it. 

Me & my beloved Grandma

Caring for my grandma was the easiest thing I ever did. I’ve always helped her, starting with cleaning her house for pocket money from the age of 10. After that, she’d come and stay with me in Carlisle so she wasn’t lonely, and when she had a stroke in March 2020, I moved in with her for 5 months during Lockdown. We had very little support and my mum and I had to learn to be nurses ourselves. We helped her with everything every day and although it was a difficult time for us all, it was also the loveliest. When I was living in Carlisle again, I returned to look after my grandma for one week every month to give my mum a break from her full-time caring role. My grandma had another severe stroke in March 2022, and I spent a week with her in the hospital before taking her home to pass away with her close family. I washed her skin, combed and styled her hair, ensured she was comfortable and we listened to her music, together.  After spending one week at home surrounded by love, she died in my arms on March 18th. I planned her funeral which was the most amazing tribute, and the day ended perfectly with a beach fire, Boney M, and a beautiful sunset. 

I still have so much I want to achieve for her and our love will last forever. I hope to visit Barbados next year to learn more about my grandma’s history, and I’m going to try and find the newspaper article that called for nurses all those years ago.

In true Windrush spirit, you’ll find me dancing through the hard times, and thankfully… I’m made of strong stuff. 

We have so many songs, but I’d like to share two songs you might not have heard before to help you dance through the hard times too, by the beautiful and Bajan Wendy Alleyne. 

Guest article written by Rakaya age 15, who was with us for a week on a work experience. During her time here she uncovered her Windrush roots and researched and wrote this article.

I’m Rakaya Wallace, I’m fifteen years old and I am a fourth generation Windrush descendant. My great grandparents came to Britain in the late 1950s/early 1960s and settled in Leeds.

A Grandmother smiles at her granddaughter who is sitting on her knee.
Me and my Great Grandma

The Windrush Generation was a name given to 500,000+ people who had been invited from Caribbean countries to help with the workforce after the war. Despite all the racism and inequality, Black people began to create opportunities for themselves, introduced their own music and dances and met up all together to reminisce about their homes. They then began to establish their own Black British culture and this has impacted future lives now in this generation, as many rappers we listen to were inspired by the old music and West Indian Carnival, which has been a tradition for me since I was a baby. It involves the dance moves that they introduced from their hometowns. So everything they brought with them to the UK has stayed with us even when they’ve gone.

A Grandfather cradles his infant great granddaughter
Me and my Great Grandad

All this would lead you to think that racism would have settled down and people would get used to seeing other people that don’t look exactly like them. However, It’s been a lot of years since then and I am a mixed heritage girl, who is 15 years of age, who has seen racism in many different forms. I have had institutional racism from school as I’ve confronted racial problems in school and I have been called “intimidating” towards other students. The police have tried to wrongfully accuse me and my friends and tried to pepper spray us but left out my white friend, who was just as aggravated about the issue as the rest of us. I have also had microaggressions from my own friends, such as “how come you don’t say the N word? I would if I were Black”, or “I look darker than you” and “I don’t mean to be racist but…..”

It can be quite a hurtful thing – my great grandparents made the UK their home having come to help re-build the country, despite the different views, and for then 74 years later racism is still found everywhere whether it’s blatant or concealed. In some ways it can be worse as people turn a blind eye and think it’s okay. A month ago I did work experience with Anti Racist Cumbria. I really enjoyed it. Anti Racist Cumbria opened my eyes more to a lot of things and has given me the confidence to speak up around hard situations that I know are not okay. It made me think about Windrush and my own heritage which I am very proud of. It’s also been very interesting as I live in Leeds, where hearing racism wouldn’t be that surprising, however coming to Cumbria and doing this has made me realise that racism is actually everywhere and organisations like ARC should be all over.

A family photo with many generations standing together.
Four generations of my family! I’m in the pink top.