The Windrush Generation & the Mother Country
With Windrush Day 2020 just around the corner, I thought it was the perfect time to throwback to 2018, the year that ‘Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children’ by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff was published. Charlie’s book explores the experiences of the Windrush Generation and that of their children and grandchildren. Through 22 different stories, Charlie highlights the real-life highs and lows of the Windrush Generation. My Grandad was one of the people interviewed in the book.
For anyone that’s new to my brand, my grandparents and my Caribbean heritage is a huge source of inspiration for my creative work. My graduate collection that I created in my final year of my fashion design degree at the University of the Creative Arts was inspired by my Grandad’s experience coming from the Caribbean island of St Lucia to the UK in the 1950s.
What is the Windrush Generation?
The Windrush Generation is the name that has been given to the Caribbean people who migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1971. Named after one of the first ships that arrived to Britain in 1948, the Empire Windrush that carried almost 500 passengers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands. In 1948, Britain was still recovering from the destruction of World War 2 and needed help to rebuild the country and fill job shortages in several industries such as manufacturing, construction, transport and the National Health Service (NHS). The British government actively encouraged and invited Caribbean men and women to come to the UK to work.
The Mother Country?
At the time, many of the Caribbean islands were still British colonies including Jamaica, Barbados and St Lucia. It was only in the late 20th century that some Caribbean islands got their independence. St Kitts and Nevis, for example, only gained their independence in 1983. In school, Caribbean children were taught they were British citizens. Britain was referred to as ‘The Motherland’ or ‘Mother Country’. So, when deciding to travel to Britain in search of jobs and opportunities, the Windrush Generation thought they would be welcomed with open arms.
Unfortunately, many of the Caribbean people did not receive a warm welcome upon their arrival to Britain. They were met with racism and discriminatory attitudes. Many of them found it difficult to find accommodation and sometimes found it hard to find jobs as some people didn’t want black people to work for them. When they did find work, they were often only considered for undesirable jobs such as cleaning and manual labour despite around half of the Caribbean men that arrived to Britain having experience in highly skilled jobs.
In spite of the difficulty that they faced, the Windrush Generation worked hard building a life for themselves and their families in Britain. Not only were they instrumental in the rebuilding of the British economy in the post war era, they also contributed heavily to British society as we know it today, especially in major cities like London, Bristol and Birmingham. From music, fashion, politics, literature and television you can find descendants of the Windrush Generation in various areas of society.
The statement ‘You Called We Came’ that was featured in my graduate collection on the statement raffia hand embroidered bag seen above was inspired by the Windrush Generation. The 1948 British Nationality Act gave citizens of the British colonies the right to work and settle in the UK. The British government actively recruited people from these colonies - they ‘called’ on them to help rebuild the ‘Mother Country’ and that’s what many Caribbean people did - they ‘came’ and worked hard to rebuild the country, bringing with them Caribbean colour, culture and vibrancy to UK through their food, music, fashion and more. This statement hopes to be a reminder, especially in the midst of the ‘Windrush scandal’, that Caribbean people were called to the UK and they came, making a lasting positive impact on British culture. I personally believe the fusion of all the cultures that exist in Britain, espeically growing up in a city like London, is what makes it great!
Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children
When hearing or reading about their experiences, you get a sense of how hard life must have been for a lot of the Windrush Generation on their arrival. However, when I’ve had a chance to listen to or speak with some of them, including my Grandad, they often share more of their positive memories. My Grandad doesn’t deny that he experienced racism or that life was hard when he first arrived, however he focuses on the happy memories he has from his earlier years in Britain. Going out to dances in Aldgate with his brother and friends, performing to crowds when he was in a steel band, becoming a semi-professional boxer, meeting my Nanny, having my mum, aunts and uncles and bringing them up. You can read more about his experiences in the chapter ‘Charming for England’ in Mother Country.
Read more about the Windrush Generation's Experiences
If you’re interested you can read more about the Windrush Generation’s experiences in books such as Small Island by Andrea Levy, Voices of the Windrush Generation by David Matthews and Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation by Colin Grant.
I’ll leave you with this lovely Guardian video of one of the last surviving Empire Windrush passengers Alford Gardner, who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago, sharing his own story.
Windrush Day is on the 22nd June. Let’s remember and celebrate the amazing contribution of the Windrush Generation to British culture and society! I’m truly grateful for all that they endured and all the barriers they broke down so that my generation and future generations can have more opportunities.
Sources & Further Reading:
- How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain Read more
- Floella Benjamin on coming to England Read more
- ‘Windrush Generations’: 1000 Londoners Read more
- How the Caribbean helped to decolonise ‘Mother Country’ Britain Read more