Windrush day commemorated as Sheffield's family remember experience

It was January 29, 1957 when my parents Bernice and Lindan Lewis, members of the Windrush Generation moved from Wiltshire (where they initially lived after moving from Jamaica to the UK) and decided to make Sheffield their permanent home. Bernice’s mother and aunt had settled in Sheffield and had encouraged them to move there. Writes Carol Stewart, executive career and lifestyle coach.

Monday, 3rd June 2019, 13:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th June 2019, 10:01 am
Bernice and Lindan Lewis, members of the Windrush Generation

Last Saturday was Windrush Day. A day to commemorate the contribution members of the

Windrush Generation have made to the UK. Named after HMS Empire Windrush, the ship that carried the first 498 settlers to the UK from Jamaica on 22 June 1948, the Windrush Generation are those members of the Commonwealth who came to the UK between 1948 to 1971.

Under the British Nationality Act 1948, there was a shared citizenship status for everyone in Britain and its colonies. All Commonwealth citizens had the right to enter and live in the UK, free from immigration control. They (along with other Commonwealth citizens) had been invited to work in the UK and help build the country back up following WWII as well as to work in the newly formed NHS.

Whilst it is not known exactly how many of the generation settled in Sheffield then, the Sheffield Libraries archive reports in 1952 a card index was compiled with details of Sheffield’s then 534 black inhabitants.

The experience for Bernice, Lindan, their family and close friends was different to that of many others from the Windrush Generation. With stories of being greeted by signs of ‘No Blacks, No Irish and No Dogs’ when going to rent homes, they didn’t experience the blatant, direct racism and discrimination that many fellow black Commonwealth citizens did.

Initially renting a room in Stafford Road and then Abbeyfield Road, they bought their first house in Atterclife in 1958. For many of that generation, the pardner was a popular way of saving. With the pardner, a group of people join together and pay a set sum of money into the collective pot each week. Each week, one person collects the total sum. This continues until everyone in the group has had their turn to collect. Whether it was £2.50 a week or £5, for many that was how they saved deposits for their homes.

Forming a close bond with Sheila and Walter, their white neighbours, there was a strong sense of community where Bernice and Lindan lived in Atterclife, and the families became good friends. Loving the culinary delights of Bernice’s Caribbean cooking, Sheila was at their house every day. Getting access to foods they were used to could be challenging, and they would buy West Indian food from Max in Castle Market, then the sole trader selling West Indian food.

Prior to that, socialising consisted of gathering at friends’ houses for parties or a game of dominoes or cards. They would reminisce about life back home and share their hopes.

As was the tradition for immigrants then (still the case today), Bernice and Lindan hosted many other family members arriving from Jamaica, putting them up until they got jobs and homes. In 1962, with a growing family, Bernice and Lindan sold their house in Attercliffe and bought one in Hunter’s Bar where they went on to raise their family of six children. Their story is not dissimilar to many of the generation. Whilst for many, their experience was good, unfortunately there are those for whom it was not, with racism and discrimination blighting their lives.

Whilst Saturday was a day of commemoration, celebrating the positive contribution to the UK by the Windrush Generation, protests around the country were a stark reminder of the Windrush scandal that came to a head last year. They were a reminder of the injustice handed out to some of the Generation, their children and even grandchildren.

On Saturday, outgoing PM Theresa May announced there is to be a statue erected at Waterloo in honour of the Windrush Generation. It will be an acknowledgement of their contribution and a lasting legacy for what they did in helping to lay foundations for the country today, which as May said is ‘richer and stronger as a result of their hard work and dedication to the UK’.

Whilst it is great this generation are finally getting the recognition they deserve, the statue shall also serve as a reminder of the Windrush scandal and what can happen when systemic injustice and racism exists in government policies. Let it also be a reminder that we make sure that the injustices are put right to those who are still affected by the scandal, a scandal that should never even have happened.