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Windrush: Why sharing our story is important

HERITAGE: Members of the Windrush Generation with some of the original suitcases they used when they left for the UK

WE SET UP the museum to give the Windrush Generation and their children and grandchildren a way to tell their stories and to share Caribbean history, heritage and culture from a black Caribbean perspective.

We’re a museum without walls in every sense and work with communities around the UK. We’ve held exhibitions and events everywhere from Caribbean takeaways and bus depots to carnivals, music festivals and schools. Wherever we go we nd people have a long-held desire to tell their or their family’s story.

Many Windrush parents didn’t tell their children about the hardships they faced settling into the UK in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s – because they didn’t want their experiences to affect their children, who were in turn dealing with their own experience of being black and British. It was ‘big people business’.

We’ve heard stories up and down the country about the networks the Windrush Generation had to forge – to ensure their safety, find work and get help with welfare issues – because they weren’t catered for by mainstream organisations.

Many second and third generation Caribbeans, and those with dual heritage, have told us they didn’t know about these things until they came along to our exhibition or event. That is why it’s so important to preserve our shared social history through people’s stories and artefacts from each decade.

REPRESENTATION

Understanding how life was for the Windrush Generation is vital to understanding what life was like for subsequent generations of black children growing up in Britain, and what it’s like today. It’s also an essential part of re-examining mainstream British history and providing representation and context from black perspectives.

Especially in the current climate of ‘nostalgia’ that’s allowing right-wing rhetoric to ourish post-Brexit. Sadly, scandals like the Windrush deportations remind us that history is rarely in the past. It forms the journey that leads us to where we are now.

The UK owes a huge debt to the Windrush Generation and through them, Caribbean history, heritage and culture continues to enrich UK soci- ety in all kinds of ways. These unsung heroes are worthy of celebrating every day, not just once a decade.

The following extracts have been condensed with the kind permission of Caribbean Journeys.

1.‘Travelling to the United Kingdom’ — Carmeleta Burke

Preparing to travel to the UK was exciting. I packed all my clothes in my suitcase given to me by my grandmother. I remember the elegant matching skirt and top: sky blue with a stripe and the blue and white stripe camisole. With my gloves and pearl earrings and high heel shoes I looked really nice. We landed at Shannon airport.

Because I was under age, an escort was provided for me by the travel service. I arrived on October 22, 1960 which was exciting but a little bit disappointing. It was cold, damp and grey.
As the train travelled through the countryside, all I could see were trees and houses that looked like factories with smoke coming from the chimneys.

I did not know what to ex- pect. There was no gold lining the street as I was led to believe.

2.‘I miss the sunshine’ — Imogen Wallace

I am from Jamaica. I arrived here in the 1960s. It was not cold, as it was in the month of May. We were coming to stay with our cousin in London, but a family friend in Nottingham said we could stay with them.

So, my sister and I came to Nottingham, for we say London is like Kingston. Our first week in Nottingham we went to look for a job. We were given a job, we just ask if there is any and they say, ‘Yes, come in’.

We were the first black people to work at that place. We came here with £40 each, we paid for a room to live in. We had the job both myself and my sister. (With) the first week’s wages we got our coat and boots and gloves. We were welcome at the workplace, they like us.

My sister say she did not want to stay in Nottingham, so she went to London. I stay in Nottingham. I got married, work very hard for what I had, many different jobs – some going to work in snow and frost. I fell down and had to get up and go on.

The winter was very bad sometimes. When you try to open the door your fingers was so frozen you can hardly put the key to open the door. Times have changed, the weather is like summer now.

I miss the sunshine but I still enjoy my life in England. When I was in Jamaica life was not too hard, for when you have your parents to look after you they try to give you the best.

That is why when the Queen came to Jamaica and say they are short of nurses and people to help for plenty of jobs, that is why we did want to come. I been home to Jamaica about ve times. It is a lovely island but everything has changed.

3.‘Dancing in the street’ — Lenny Bedward

First time I went to Jamaica was in the 1980s to help my mum with some property that her mother left to her. When we got out there, there were some squatters in the house, so we had to go to a solicitor to see how she was going to remove them.

It was a lot of money to hire solicitors out there. It took about a year to get the squatters out. They didn’t think anyone was coming back to the house and just took over, but my mum was paying the taxes, which helped.

I used to go to dances out there. They were different and livelier in Jamaica. There would be dancing in the street before going into the venue. I wanted to buy records and see how the DJs performed.

We went around visiting different parishes, seeing family and hearing different music. Kingston would have all the new stuff, but in the country it was mainly instrumental music. In the Caribbean, you have to go to church on a Sunday, and you save your best clothes. It is more lively, they are more into singing and clapping.

The Jamaican life has two sides. Some people would think you are rich and want you to leave clothes and your shoes when you go, like you are made of gold. I felt good the first time I went because I was going to my mum’s birthplace to see where she came from, to see where my father was from, and where we went to school.

I was fortunate to go because a lot of people only get to hear about it. It gave me a good feeling to see Jamaica. The food is fresher. The lifestyle is very different – you’ve either got it, or you don’t.

I DJ for a sound called Quantro with my brother Kenneth, and friends Robert, Keith, Johnny, Leslie, Colin and Redman. We were the first sound to play in Nottingham’s Market Square and at the Carnival.

We’ve played with all the big sounds in the UK like Quaker City and Cosan Shocker.
That took me on a lot of journeys, I got to meet a lot of people. My father used to bring records home and he used to lock them in the front room. The front room was the best room, for guests only.

The records were locked in what looked like a drinks cabinet but sometimes I used to steal the key and sneak in and listen. And that is what got me into music and sound systems.

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