October 1, 2018, by Claire Henson

The Windrush Legacy: Struggle, resilience and transformation

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush into Essex’s Tilbury Dock in June 1948, carrying nearly 500 passengers migrating to England from the West Indies.

In the following blog, written by Professor Cecile Wright, Lenford Vassell and Dr Val Watson, we introduce the Windrush Legacy – by outlining some of the ways that people encouraged and sponsored by UK governments to move to the UK from the Caribbean were received and responded to their reception.

This blog has been written for Black History Month 2018. Our BHM18 celebrations at the University of Nottingham aim to acknowledge that Black History is being made every day.

The University of Nottingham is celebrating Black History Month with a number of events and celebrations throughout October 2018. Find out more.

There has been a small black presence in the United Kingdom since Roman Times. This was entirely African. The Black Caribbean presence became prominent in the 1950s and 1960s as immigrants from that region vastly increased in numbers. They settled in major cities – including in Nottingham.

The twofold causes of low living standards in the Caribbean and available jobs in the UK combined with the fact that Black British Caribbeans were, in effect, British citizens until the colonies gained independence resulted in this immigration.

Post war UK governments also encouraged and sponsored people from the Caribbean to come to the UK to fill jobs in the newly created NHS and recently nationalised industries.

The reception

  • Employers gained a flexible, young low cost work force;
  • Many in the general population were less positive.

Racist name calling and shunning of black people meant they lived close to each other in inner cities. Racism was not illegal until the Race Discrimination Act of 1968. Indeed, the first ‘race riot’ in contemporary Britain, involving the newly arrived migrants, occurred in St Ann’s, Nottingham in 1958.

As labour demand was less marked after the 1960’s there were increasing calls for “repatriation” and a succession of immigration Acts were passed to cut immigration from the Commonwealth.

With the rise in unemployment in the 1970s scapegoatism increased and stereotypical labelling involving drugs, crime, and so forth became pronounced.

Response of the immigrant black Caribbean first generation

Many communities established “West Indian Community Centres”. These provided advice, support, welfare, leisure and cultural events. Weddings and funeral wakes are still frequent, as are communal carnivals. Social/community capital projects based in these centres established credit unions as new arrivals found it difficult to access financial services. These centres also provided a place for socialising without the racial hostility elsewhere – e. g pubs.

These centres were quickly used as supplementary schools. These were a response to the largely negative experience black children had in mainstream schooling. The aim was to improve children’s self-esteem and create an ethos of approval.

Caribbean immigrants also established their own churches. Non-conformism gave a sense of stability, belonging and comfort. Black churches also provide culturally sensitive spaces.

The resilience of the Windrush generation and their descendants, depended greatly on this combination of community centres, self-help schools, churches, and community financial support.

The recent “Windrush Scandal” signals the continuance of the need for the African Caribbean community to maintain their resilience and draw on their own resources and support. This has been vital for the whole of the 70 years.

Posted in Black History MonthDiversity & InclusionEquality