They Came, They Lived, They Left A Legacy

Shirley Anstis explores the life, values and legacy of the Windrush Generation – Caribbean people who migrated to Britain from 1948 to 1971

The Windrush Generation of Caribbean-born British citizens experienced a very different life when they moved to the UK. Whilst they needed to adjust their expectations around housing, weather, food and hospitality, there were other intangibles they could rely on.

They were courageous when they answered the call by the British government to work in the country’s labour-starved industries; they were hopeful of a better life. In the decades since, they have had time to reflect on the values that supported them, and we have taken time to look at their legacy and values, which they have passed on to their children and grandchildren.

The Windrush Generation arrived in the UK, curious and flexible. They were open and ready to take in new knowledge and skills in various industries, such as nursing, construction and transport. They also wanted and encouraged their children to do well at school, so they would have a less difficult life. They were learning to navigate the job market for themselves and the education system for their children.

Some were faced with overt racism in their places of work and others faced limited opportunities to progress. Some made the decision to return to the Caribbean and others adjusted their expectations whilst creating avenues for self-expression.

These limited opportunities meant they had to be resourceful. They innovated to provide products and services to customers who were not being catered for. Whether working for themselves or for others, they were diligent and hardworking.

Many wanted to provide for their families back in the Caribbean, and so would often do more than one job. Sometimes one parent worked days and another worked nights, which often put a strain on family life.

Many Caribbean people came from islands that practised Christianity as their official religion. One area of continuity with ‘back home’ was attending church. They expected to be welcomed when visiting churches, even though a warm welcome wasn’t always forthcoming. Whenever I’ve spoken to people about their initial experience in Britain’s traditional churches, they said it provided a way for them to hold on to their faith, whilst trying to find a place to feel a sense of belonging. This rejection from ‘white churches’ would help fuel the growth of Britain’s Black Church movement.

The faith of the Windrush Generation provided something to rely on in times of difficulty. Regardless of what the world signalled, they knew they were made in God’s image and protected.

The Windrush Generation valued keeping family and community relationships alive and thriving. They would often visit each other and sometimes arrange day trips to the seaside when they were off work. This close connection helped people to find work, accommodation, and long-term partners. People looked out for each other and remained respectful of their elders.

They valued hospitality and often got together for music, food, and games such as dominoes. They would get together to celebrate life and the small progress they were making. They also came together for the big events, like births, marriages and deaths – each one involving reunions and updates. These events were very inclusive as many people would be invited. I have been told that their stylish attire and sense of occasion would often stop traffic!

Eventually many would seek to preserve their cultural heritage, leading to their impact on music, dance, food and fashion in the UK today. Out of this would come the Notting Hill Carnival, which started in 1959 by Claudia Jones. Sport – and especially cricket – played a part in that sense of community. Others would encourage political participation. This legacy is evident in politics, academia, the NHS, art, literature and other sectors.

So many of the Windrush Generation have spoken of making the most of what they had. No one was keeping gratitude journals back then, but they practised gratitude every day. Even now, there are people who experienced great difficulty, who are not yet ready to speak up about it. They only want to remember the good times. They appreciate the chance they had for a different life but know that nothing would have come of it without their resilience and humility. Many practised walking away from trouble or keeping quiet, so they could survive mentally and physically.

So much of this information has been learned from speaking to the survivors, those who lived long and are happy to share their stories. I’m aware that many didn’t have long lives, never got to visit or return home, and perhaps never met their grandkids. We don’t know what they would say but their part needs to be remembered, too. Maybe they didn’t keep quiet, or chose to face difficulty head on. They are also part of the Windrush story. All contributed to the fabric of the UK and helped to pave the way for subsequent groups of people building a life here.

Shirley Anstis is a counsellor, three-time author, life coach, and workshop facilitator. Find her books on Amazon and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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