Windrush Day is marked annually in the UK on the 22nd June. Vanessa Bovell-Clarke (she/her) who works in Student Support & Wellbeing Services at King’s College London, reflects on the women in her own family and the sacrifices they made so that those who followed them do not have to.
Vanessa at the Family House in Barbados.
For many people, the word ‘Windrush’ often brings to mind images of sharply dressed, young black men and women setting sail for new opportunities and a new chapter of life in the United Kingdom. More recently, the word has become more synonymous with this same generation as well and even their children being forcibly sent away from the UK, labelled as illegal immigrants by the very same government who first requested their help to rebuild a post-war Britain in the 1940’s.
With both my paternal and maternal grandmothers no longer living, I often wonder what they would make of the Windrush scandal having worked so hard themselves to build lives and plant roots in what I now call home.
Clotelle Eudene Roach (or Granny Clo as she was known to me) was born in Black Rock, St Michael on the island of Barbados in 1937, one of four children. Orphaned by the age of 15, Clotelle quickly took on a maternal role and played a huge part in providing for her siblings along with her older sister, Sylvie.
To make ends meet, she worked jobs in catering and as service staff, in the homes of the wealthy (and mostly white) in Barbados. The remnants of British colonisation were clear to see across the island, with limited opportunities for many black Bajans and much of the island’s wealth circling amongst direct decedents of plantation and slave-owning families.
In 1958, Clotelle set sail for the UK in search of a new destiny once her husband, Ricardo had travelled to London ahead of her (as was often the case for couples at that time) and found and prepared a place for them to live. Once settled in East London, Clotelle came into her own and took on a plethora of roles including seamstress and school lunch lady as well as offering her skills in baking and sewing to private clients and friends in the local community.
Further across to the west side of the Caribbean, Hermine Gertrude Morrison (aka Granny Babs) was born in Cave Valley, Jamaica in 1941, the second youngest of 11 children. In a similar fashion, Babs came to England after being ‘sent for’ by her husband, Lesley after he had settled in London in 1963. Just like Clotelle, Babs also threw herself into multiple jobs including work in a shoe factory, wig making, catering and hairdressing.
Granny Babs pictured on her wedding day.
Growing up, my grandmothers were the physical embodiment of home, stability, family, strength and damn hard work. I witnessed them prepare gargantuan feasts of brown stew chicken, rice and peas, fried flying fish and cou cou (a cornmeal-based dish, also Barbados’ national dish) for crowds of family, friends and even neighbours on a regular basis. Both were regular attendees and very much involved in the church; some of my core memories include Sunday services and church fetes. They did this all whilst working multiple jobs and fulfilling the role of mother in an era that viewed parenting as very much a solitary and gender-conforming role.
It was only as I grew older, that I recognised the gravity of what they had accomplished. As part of the Windrush generation, being amongst the first in their families to move their whole lives to an unfamiliar country was a massive feat in itself. Facing daily racism in said country was an additional struggle; my Granny Clotelle told us of a time she was stopped by a white woman in the middle of a market, who tugged at the back of her skirt and said, “Let’s see your tail then?!”
This generation faced an untold number of difficulties and struggles most of which were steeped in racism, despite being such an integral part of rebuilding the UK economy, filling roles in nursing, catering, manual labour, hospitality, cleaning and much more.
I wonder about the mental health of my grandmother’s, the burdens they had to bear, the pain behind smiles and the silent struggles that were shared with no one but God. Throughout all of this, they were able to bring such life, culture and happiness to their families, which I will forever cherish. Their struggles and personal sacrifices serve as a reminder to me that I do not wish to and nor do I have to, continue to be ‘strong’ at the expense of my wellbeing. I am lucky to have multiple paths that lay ahead of me that do not necessarily include children and motherhood, but where I am encouraged to speak my truth about injustice and my pain.
November 2021 Barbados Independence Ceremony. Left to right: Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Dame Sandra Mason, Rhianna, Prince Charles.
In 2021, Barbados became a republic, officially denouncing the UK and it’s Queen as Head of State. Jamaica, alongside many other Caribbean countries are set to soon follow. This true independence feels like a poignant reflection of the next generation, as we prepare to live life to the fullest, honouring the Windrush legacy as we do so.
The King’s Legal Clinic aims to further the education of KCL law students and promote social justice. The Legal Clinic has allowed King’s students to help victims of the Windrush scandal in practical and proactive ways. You can find out more about the Windrush Justice Clinic’s award winning work in this article.
Tell us about yourself and your role at King’s. How did you get involved with this work?
I am the Director, Supervising Solicitor and Senior Lecturer at King’s Legal Clinic (the Clinic) which is part of the Dickson Poon School of Law. The Clinic aims to promote social justice and educate our students by providing them with experiential learning opportunities. Our students work on legal cases and research projects under the supervision of lawyers either as part of an assessed module or on an extracurricular basis. I teach and supervise clinic students and oversee the running of the Clinic, this includes developing new partnerships and clinics.
When the opportunity arose to develop a Windrush Justice Clinic (WJC) for King’s it seemed a perfect opportunity as it aligned with the Clinic’s aim to proactively engage students in equality and race issues through experiential learning. Following the brutal killing of George Floyd , as a Clinic we had begun to reflect more deeply on what our social justice mission means. The Clinic has long recognised the link between the hostile immigration environment and racism and have developed a range of immigration advice services to counter this. We also have an active strategy to work with marginalised communities both in the UK and internationally.
I led on developing the WJC at King’s with great support from the Law faculty, the Clinic team and more widely at King’s. There have been challenges along the way, but it has been a positive experience and really brough home how much my own values align with King’s. In the first part of my career I worked as a legal aid solicitor specialising mainly in refugee and immigration law. I had always been committed to working with marginalised communities and enabling access to justice, the transition to teaching and clinical legal education was quite a natural one.
When we talk about the ‘Windrush scandal’, what do we mean?
People arriving from the commonwealth from 1948-1971 are commonly referred to as the Windrush Generation. ‘Windrush’ derives from the ship ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ which brought one of the first groups of Caribbean people to the UK in 1948. Many of the Windrush Generation were invited by the British government to the UK to take up jobs, for e.g in the newly formed NHS, where there were shortages in the aftermath of WW2. The people of these colonies or dominions , as there were then then known, were given a type of citizenship and were British subjects. This accorded them a right of free movement within the empire and an ability to transmit their status to their children.
The essence of the scandal is that the Windrush generation , and their children, who arrived in the UK were residing here lawfully, they were either British or had settled status. However the Home Office issued no formal paperwork in many instances, as there was no legal requirement to do so.
In 2010, the Home Office destroyed landing cards and other records belonging to Windrush migrants, making it is difficult for Windrush arrivals and their families to prove their legal status following changes in the Immigration system and notably the Government’s 2012 hostile environment policy. The hostile environment policy aimed to make the UK uninhabitable for undocumented migrants by tasking landlords, employers, the NHS, banks and many others with the function of enforcing immigration control. This meant that many of the Windrush Generation were unable to prove their lawful immigration status , some were detained and deported, lost their right to work and rent, access to bank accounts, claim benefits and access to healthcare etc.
In 2018, the UK government finally accepted that it had wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights to the Windrush generation. Following acknowledgement of the scandal, to date more than 12,000 people have received documents from the Home Office confirming they are now legally living in the UK. In April 2019, the government established The Windrush Compensation Scheme (‘WCS’) which aims to provide victims with recompense for their suffering.
The WCS scheme has been extensively criticised and whilst attempts have been made to improve it, many consider it not fit for purpose. In November 2021, the Home Affairs Committee on the WCS found: ‘Instead of providing a remedy, for many people the Windrush Compensation Scheme has actually compounded the injustices faced as a result of the Windrush Scandal’. There are numerous issues with the schemes;
Low uptake, only 5.8% of the people who are believed to be eligible for compensation have received a payment.
Complex application process requiring detailed calculations, supporting evidence and information.
Hostile approach to assessment of evidence.
Inadequate legal advice provision. Legal aid is not available.
Delay in decision making, for e.g. 23 people have now died without receiving a decision.
Low amounts awarded.
Inadequate appeals system.
Initial estimates had suggested the scheme could be forced to pay out between £200 -500 million and that at least 15,000 applications would be submitted. Thousands of people have been affected by this scandal, but many are reluctant and often frightened to ask for help. The estimate of eligible claimants has been revised down by the Home Office and current stands at 4,000 to 6,000 claims.
What does the Windrush Justice Clinic aim to do?
The WJC is a collaborative partnership made up of community organisations, law centres and university legal advice clinics striving; to help victims of the Windrush scandal receive the compensation they deserve; research the accessibility and fairness of the compensations scheme; and share and disseminate the WJC clinical legal education model of collaboration.
King’s joined the wider WJC collaborative partnership in October 2021. King’s part-funds a solicitor at Southwark Law Centre and 20 King’s students have been involved in; supporting community outreach sessions to raise awareness of the WCS and build trust in the elderly Windrush community in Southwark; and provide casework support to the SLC solicitor in complex cases involving vulnerable clients.
The WJC has carried out preliminary research, led by the University of Westminster, into unmet need for legal advice for people making claims under the WCS which found the process was to complex for claimants to navigate, legal assistance was required, the current advice framework in inadequate and there is considerable unmet legal need.
Have any of the cases you’ve worked on surprised you?
I have been struck how the Windrush scandal has impacted a wide variety of people from all walks of life and ages. King’s WJC is representing clients from a variety of countries in the Commonwealth, including those with Jamaican, Dominican, Indian, Nigerian and Canadian heritage. We have younger client’s who are victims of domestic abuse, experiencing serious problems in accessing housing support due to the inability to prove their lawful residence. An older client who’s highly successful career in creative industry was stalled for a number of years, which had a devastating impact on his life including health issues, financial issues and the resultant breakdown of significant relationships. A daughter who experienced significant delays returning to the UK to care for her elderly and unwell mother. Many people’s lives have been impacted and it is humbling to hear about their experiences.
What lessons do you hope we have learnt from the treatment of the Windrush generation?
There is much to reflect upon and learn, this is something we are planning an event around to take place in either September or October 2022, so watch this space! For me the following are critical as a starting point:
It is important to assess the root cause of any problem and we have to address the historic and ongoing racism which permeates immigration legislation in the UK. Whilst there has been some acknowledgment , there does appear some resistance. It was recently reported that the Home Office is suppressing the release of a government commissioned report which finds racist legislation led to the Windrush scandal.
Public sector equality duties must be carried out in a meaningfully and robust fashion. In 2020 the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Home Office has acted unlawfully by not properly considering how it’s hostile environment policies affected black members of the Windrush generation.
A functioning and effective legal aid system is vital to protect people’s rights and keep a check on government. When the hostile environment immigration policy was introduced, large parts of immigration advice was removed from the scope of legal aid, therefore Windrush victims were unable to access to vital free legal advice. Many Windrush victims currently need legal assistance with their compensation claims in light of its complexity and the historical trauma suffered, legal aid is not available and this is another reason for the low uptake in the compensation scheme.
A government compensation scheme should be administered by an appropriate department who is not viewed as the perpetrator of the harm by the victims. Distrust in the Home Office has been cited as a reason for the low uptake in the scheme, the rules of the scheme itself require a level of evidence which perpetuates the culture of hostile environment:
“From my experiences with the Windrush Compensation Scheme / Home Office, and their responses to my claim, it is almost like they are telling me the following: “We are really, really, sorry for punching you in the face, however, we are sure you’ve recovered now, it wasn’t that bad of a punch, so here is another punch in the face, but don’t worry about that one, because you’ve already recovered, please accept some tape and cotton wool to make a plaster out of.’” Windrush victim testimony provided to Home Affairs Committee
What is the future of the work of the WJC?
The WJC has been great success so far , it won Best New Pro Bono Activity Award at the 2022 Law Works and Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards. Most importantly we are supporting clients and providing our students with a valuable learning experience, where they can develop an understanding of structural inequalities in society and work with clients from diverse backgrounds.
We want the WJC to help as many people as possible through casework in partnership with Southwark Law Centre, build capacity in other Clinic’s and organisations across the UK, and carry out further research on unmet legal need and systemic issues with the compensation scheme.
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To mark Windrush Day, Hannah Gordon, a first-year English student at King`s College London, remembers the legacy of the Windrush generation and their contribution to Britain.
The ship Empire Windrush.
Waving hands and smiling faces spill out of the Empire Windrush as it approaches Tilbury Dock. A new generation of hopeful arrivals determined to make their mark in the ‘mother country’ and build a better life for them and their families back home. Unbeknownst to them, they would face racism, inequality and discrimination that would define British race relations for years to come.
The Windrush generation, as most are known, have become the face of the dynamic global hub, which is Britain. In 2018, the Windrush Scandal became headline news with numerous cases of wrongful detentions and deportations of these migratory pioneers, who were invited by the British government to live and work. This scandal prompted widespread condemnation but more importantly, a conscious drive to honour the contributions of the Windrush generation. Subsequently, every year on the 22nd of June we celebrate Windrush Day commemorating their indelible sacrifice to Britain.
Both my grandparents were part of the Windrush generation. My grandmother was a night shift nurse in the NHS for 40 years and lived in Ladbroke Grove during the Notting Hill riots. My grandfather was an auto- electrician and then a machine operator- spanning 30 years. So, as we approach Windrush Day, what better time to learn more about the effort, resilience and duty of this generation who helped mould Britain into the cultural powerhouse it is today?
Lord Kitchener (calypsonian).
Contributions to the Public Sector
Picture of two nurses from the Windrush generation.
The NHS is a cultural institution to Britain. It embodies ideas of equality and accessible rights to all – regardless of circumstance. No wonder it took a staring position at London`s 2012 opening ceremony- think Britain think NHS. Today, 20 % of the NHS’ workforce is from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds and it is the most diverse workforce in the whole of Europe. Caribbean nurses from the Windrush Generation played a massive part in building the NHS helping to fill the labour shortage. Despite experiencing racism and discrimination, they pursued in their roles demonstrating dedication to their job, family, and Britain.
Many of the Windrush generation also worked in Transport for London. Transport for London actively recruited in the Caribbean and by 1956 they had enrolled dozens of workers – both men and women. Around 20% of TFL workers are still from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds today. This transport network, iconic to London, still bears the Windrush imprint.
Contributions to Music
Music has been long associated with the Windrush generation. From the sound systems, which became a vocal point for black youth seeking identity in hostile Britain, to genres like Reggae, Dub and Ska. Dub, which remixed records, became the premise for modern day genres like drum and bass as well as house music.
Contributions to Literature
As the conversation surrounding race in fields of education and literature becomes more prominent. Writers like Zadie Smith, Malorie Blackman, Sam Selvon and Benjamin Zephaniah are more widely recognised. Walk into waterstones and their books are in some of the most noticeable displays. The influx of diverse literature was a massive contribution of the Windrush generation. Writers like Sam Selvon helped popularise the creole voice in writing and his subversive style is often adopted by ‘contemporary figures like Zadie Smith’. Other mobilising movements, like the Caribbean Arts Movement and the Caribbean Voices helped attract an audience to these new styles of writing.
I have only scratched the surface of the Windrush Generation’s achievements. There are so many more exciting stories and experiences to share. We must continue to read, educate, and honour the debt they paid for this country as Britain`s builders.
On the 22 June 1948 the ship Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks bringing over 500 people from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom. 73 years on Sociologist & Civil Servant, Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall (PhD) reflects on the impact and legacy of the Windrush generation on Britain.
Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall
This week marks the 73rd anniversary of the SS Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks.
When the England football manager, Gareth Southgate, and his team walked out on the pitch for their opening match of the current UEFA Euro 2020 tournament, they were already part of an ongoing controversy. The manager had announced that his players would continue to “take the knee”. This is the gesture that many sportsmen and sportswomen have been participating in, which is kneeling for a few seconds before the commencement of their game(s), in support of racial equality. Started by Dr Martin Luther King and his colleagues during the civil right movement in the US and revived by Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, in 2016, it has now been fused with the BLM movement, since the murder of George Floyd.
As this event unfolded, I was reminded of the birth of the UK Black power movement of the 1960s when people such as Frank Critchlow, Darcus Howe, Olive Morris, Farrukh Dhondy and many others were forced to stand up to multiple injustices that they faced at the time (whether from the police or their neighbours), particularly when they were wrongfully charged with inciting the Mangrove “riots” and rightly acquitted by the courts. Some of those people were among the group of immigrants who set sail on the SS Windrush in 1948, leaving their homes, their families and their loved ones, thinking that their journey would take them to the Motherland for a better life but they were not prepared for the challenges of injustice and inequality that awaited them.
Their activism of the 1960s and 1970s is widely seen as a template by their descendants, utilising some of those strategies to deal with similar issues that are still being faced some 60 years later.
As the awful events of the summer of 2020 unfolded, once again Black people took to the streets. Like the Mangrove protestors, the descendants of those “Windrushers” – third, and in some instances, fourth generation – demonstrated that they possess the tenacity and determination to deal with new battles. For example, the “Windrushers” dealt with hostility, direct discrimination and exclusion in all spheres of life, now we have to deal with subtle, indirect discrimination and micro-aggression, in the main.
Has nothing changed, then, I hear you ask, dear reader? Of course, there have been significant changes. We have more anti-discrimination legislation than any country in Europe, we have Black history month, we have more Black people on TV, more MPs from diverse backgrounds in prominent roles in government, we have an Asian Mayor of London and a Windrush descendant as Mayor of Bristol. The Windrush descendants are living a life that very few of those Caribbean passengers, who disembarked from the SS Windrush at Tilbury Docks on that June day in 1948 were able to. But they laid the foundation for Black Britons today – from their service during WWII, the Bristol bus boycotts, signs reading “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, protests and challenging unfairness through the courts. Nonetheless, there are still challenges to be met, three generations on. When England’s Black footballers walked out on the pitch for their first game in the Euro 2020 tournament, supported by their team-mates and manager, they were facing one such challenge, asking that racial justice be further advanced. They were booed, booed by their own supporters in the friendlies leading up to the start of the tournament but the boos grew less at this game. So what did the team do? They won the match 1-0, the only goal scored by a Windrush descendant.
So as the Windrush commemoration starts we ask the question, what is their legacy? I say, they have bequeathed their descendants the right to be Black Britons and not perpetually be regarded as “immigrants” and perseverance (among other things), even when the tasks seem insurmountable and the goal distant. We may get weary, and some days it may feel like we are on our own, but we keep going and the goal of racial justice is within reach. That is the legacy of the “Windrushers”.
Professor Richard Drayton, a Caribbean-born professor of History at King’s commemorates the 72nd anniversary of Windrush Day, a day honoring the Windrush generation and their legacy.
Since 2018, Windrush Day has been the day in which we celebrate what Caribbean people have given to Britain. Such a celebration should be anchored in the memory of why we came. But it cannot just be retrospective. The anniversary of Windrush should challenge us each year to address the question of racial inequality, both within Britain, and in Britain’s relationship to the West Indies.
There has never been any formal colour bar to study at King’s, nor indeed to recruitment to its staff. King’s indeed helped form Caribbean-born figures like Harold Moody, Sir Shridath Ramphal and Pearl Connor who have made fundamental contributions to British, Caribbean and international society. But from the nineteenth century to our own time, the consequence of slavery and colonialism were and are forms of economic inequality and unequal participation, which have meant that its personnel, culture and curricula have been overwhelmingly ‘white’. It is a significant step forward that in the moment of Black Lives Matters in 2020, that the college has begun to seriously confront the legacies of racism in its culture and practices.
One important possible new initiative might be for King’s to build and deepen its relationship to the Caribbean and its diasporas. It is striking that King’s, which sits just a short walk from the climax of Caribbean-British life in Brixton, has had so little to do with it, so few Black London students and even fewer academics. And might more effort go into building partnerships with the University of the West Indies? It was once the case that King’s and the then University College of the West Indies were sister members of the federal University of London. We should seek twenty-first century version of the kind of cooperation envisioned in that late colonial institution.
Windrush Day throws out a challenge to Britain in general and, specifically, to us at King’s. How do we remake ourselves, so that the descendants of the Windrush migrants can have an equal place in our life? And how do we address the forms of international inequality to which our domestic forms of racialised injustice were and are connected?
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