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Coaches across the Sport & British Athletics staff share their Windrush reflections

Category: testimonial, BAME, BAME Inclusion, Testimonials, UK Athletics, Coaching, National Windrush Day, Ethnicity, Ethnic Diversity, Ethnic Inclusion, Ethnic Minority, Staff Testimonial, BAME Diversity, BAME Network, immigration, coaches, UKA, coach

BAME

Monday 22nd June marked the 72nd Anniversary of some 500 migrants from the Caribbean disembark the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, Essex to step foot on British soil for the first time on 22nd June 1948.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advocate, Lorna Dwyer, Senior Performance Co-ordinator – Age Group Lead at British Athletics, has collated these fascinating ‘Windrush Reflections’ from our Coaches, of their parents or grandparents that arrived from the Caribbean to the UK.

Shani Palmer

[Event Group Lead – Speed, England Athletics]

In February of 1956, my mother, Mary Anderson, disembarked from the SS Auriga at Plymouth Docks with her parents and four siblings. The vessel, carrying 1,100 passengers, arrived in the UK from the Caribbean following the HMS Windrush. Her family of 7 had made the 16 day voyage in search of better prospects in the UK. Following the end of World War II, the UK needed help to rebuild. Having lost a huge number of men in the war, the UK sent word to the Caribbean that there were lucrative jobs and a good standard of living for those who were prepared to relocate to its shores. My Grandfather was an oil grader in an oil refinery in Aruba and although my grandparents lived a very comfortable life there, they decided to emigrate to the UK.

My Grandfather sent money ahead to a contact to find his family a place to stay once they arrived, but when they reached Paddington Station, they were told that there was no lodging waiting for them. With nowhere to stay, they then lived in a hotel for two months before my Grandfather was able to buy a house in West Hampstead. My Mum recalls that despite having a good job and qualifications, my Grandfather found it very difficult to find employment. She remembers seeing signs in house windows that said “No dogs, No Blacks, No Irish”. Despite the promises that were made to them in Aruba, they found that they were not welcomed, and life was significantly harder than expected. They knew it would be colder in London, but they weren’t expecting the fog and soot which covered everything. My Mum was 6 years old when she came to the UK, so her recollection was that of a child. She remembers my Grandmother crying for a week when they first arrived, her schoolteacher’s purposely not recognising her achievements in school and the racist names she was called walking down the street and in the playground. She remembers being ignored in shops when trying to pay for groceries and her father recalling how he was told “Blacks won’t get jobs here”.

[Shani Palmer’s Grandma (left) and Mum (right)]

Regardless of the barriers put in their way, my grandparents encouraged their children to work hard in school and insisted on high standards at home and with others. Despite his engineering background, my Grandfather eventually got a job in the postal service and worked his way up to being a supervisor. They rented out the top 2 floors of their town house to other families that had travelled to the UK from Carriacou. My Mum describes her life as being part of two worlds. There was the world of school and London life and then there was the Carriacou world made up of families who had also emigrated and established a close community in London. My Grandparents were able to bring their Caribbean culture and lifestyle into an environment that didn’t accept them. Despite having many good English school friends, my Mum didn’t feel that these two worlds could overlap until she was in her late teens (which would have been the late 60’s).

Over time, they adapted and grew as a family. My Grandparents were proud to say they raised eight children; a psychologist, an architect, a scientist, the lead singer of Hot Chocolate, an author, a member of Mensa, a wedding dress designer and a French teacher. They make up a family that I am extremely proud to say are my rock and they paved the way for the rest of our family to grow and thrive.

Lorna Boothe MBE 

[Commonwealth Gold and Silver Medallist, England Athletics Board Observer & European Athletics Coaches Association Council]

I came to the UK at the age of 5, my parents in their early twenties having left me with my grandma when I was 2.  They came to the UK for opportunities not available for them in Jamaica and a better life ……or so they thought!

My grandma was a seamstress and owned her own business and my parents were sending money home to help support me. At 3 they sent me a porcelain doll almost as big as me for Christmas. When I arrived in London I had nice dresses and new shoes and boasted this to my mum and dad who picked me up at Heathrow airport. I arrived on a Pan Am flight from Kingston, Jamaica in the middle of winter exactly one month after my 5th birthday.  I travelled in the care of my grandma’s friend who then travelled onto Birmingham to live. As a 5 year-old, this was an exciting adventure and also going to see my mum and dad who I only remembered from pictures.

(Lorna Boothe’s – age 5 – passport photo)

I was very happy to begin with but after a while kept wondering when I was going home to my grandma. I began crying myself to sleep and wrote to her every week. There was a big hole in my heart… happy and yet sad.

When I arrived, we lived in a house with many families each with a room of their own. I couldn’t understand this as in Jamaica we owned our own home. I went to school for a short while in the area we were living in London and I made new friends and one special friend, Sonia whose mum owned the house we lived in. She is still my special friend 59 years later!

What I could never understand as a child is why I was bought to a country where I was called names, it was cold and foggy, living conditions were worse than what I was used to and away from my beloved grandma. I cried and wondered silently for many years. This is still deep in my thoughts today.

We didn’t stay at that house for long. We moved into our own flat in an all white town in Surrey. We were the only black family and I was the only black child in my primary school until my brother was old enough to attend. I didn’t have to face much racism at that primary school. If it was there I did not notice.  My parents raised me with the understanding that I am a person and should believe that and stand up for myself but must respect others for who they are. A principle I have to this day but it has been challenging through personal experiences.

My dad returned to Jamaica in the 70s and started up his own successful business, as he felt this country wasn’t what he had expected. He stayed there until his death in 2012 while I was away coaching in US at warm weather training camp. I stayed with Mum in the UK and she continued to face many challenges of racism.

Sharon Morris 

[PA to Talent Director / Performance Pathway Senior Coordinator at British Athletics]

My parents came over to England in 1960. My dad, who was my mum’s second husband was 26 and my mum was 40.  My mother had 11 siblings and my father, 1.

They both came over to this country as there were job opportunities to make a better life for themselves and provide for their families in Jamaica.  They lived with my uncle in Hockley, Birmingham until they found a room to rent in Handsworth. I was born in 1965 when my mother was 45 years old. I was the 7th child for my mother who had previously lost 5 children in their infancy. I was the only one born in the UK. She always said if they were born in the UK they would have survived.

Both got jobs straight away; my mother worked at Dudley Road Hospital and my dad worked for IMI. This I believe was the only job they had and they worked hard every day, my mum until she retired and I unfortunately lost my dad at the age of 49. I remember them being close to their work colleagues who remained friends for life. My mother was never late for work – in fact, she always went to work two hours early to make sure. My mother was also a dress maker and made most of her clothes and bought a Singer machine which she never used.  It was a cupboard which opened up as a sewing machine. They always sent money back to Jamaica to their families and clothing, buying large barrels to send over there.

One of the stories I remember is my mother saying when she first saw the snow she thought the clouds were falling from the sky and how she fell so many times trying to walk through it. She also talked how they were barred from various places due to the colour of their skin. I recall being racially teased when we went away to the seaside.

My only regret is not getting as much info from them about their experiences when they were alive.  I would love to have documented it all.

Sharon Morris (right) next to her Mum.

Donovan Reid 

[Coach]

My Grandmother arrived here in 1959 and worked for a large corporation in London. Every morning she would get the bus from Clapham High street in London to the five mile journey to her work. If the bus was full she would wait for another one or they would squeeze in for the journey.

This particular morning she managed to get a seat and was settling in to the journey when the bus became packed after a few stops.

A white lady who was standing up next to her kept stepping on her toes. This happened a few time and my grandmother said “excuse me” to which the lady replied I’m so sorry.

The journey continued and now my grandmother has moved her feet away from her and yet she still managed to step on her toes again, and again she (the white lady) “I’m so sorry.”

It took a while then with a mighty blow my grandmother stepped on the lady’s feet and looks her straight in the eye and said “Mi sorry to” and the rest of the journey was step free.

My grandmother believed that this was something that was taken from the USA (1955 act that required blacks were obligated to give up those seats to white passengers). Not happening!

Donna Fraser

[Equality, Diversity & Engagement Lead and Domestic Athletics Manager at British Athletics]

My parents were not part of the Windrush generation, but followed in their footsteps in the 1960’s.  My Dad was a talented mason and carpenter, learning his trade from his father, yet he had many other skills including midwifery and a baker; hence his nickname Baker. Both Mum and Dad came from big families; Dad was one of seven children and Mum was one of eight.  Providing for their family was extremely important to them, so when Dad made the decision to leave the beautiful island St.Vincent and the Grenadines to travel to England in 1961, leaving his two daughters and girlfriend (my Mum) behind, he was determined to do well for his family. His older brother was already in England, so he knew ‘family’ would be there to meet him at the other end.

My parents always told us stories about their journey’s to the UK – both were completely different. Dad enjoyed his 11 day experience and spent a lot of time on deck to take in the Atlantic sea breeze and was fascinated by the mechanics of the ship. Mum on the other hand, who left St.Vincent and the Grenadines in 1962 to join Dad, had a nightmare and spent most of her journey with sea sickness. Mum wasn’t happy with her cabin mates as in her words “they were not friendly at all”, so found her school friend and bunked in with her for the rest of the journey. She recalls being happy to see the shores of Italy, but disappointed they couldn’t leave the ship to explore the country

When Dad docked in Southampton, the train journey to East Croydon was exciting as he’d not been on a train before and recalls the fog and the funny roofs.

When Mum arrived, she struggled to adapt to the cold weather and standard of living. It wasn’t the land of hopes and dreams as they were led to be believe.  They tied the knot on 27 October 1962 and shared a house with other Caribbean families and both worked hard to save and send money back home – eventually they saved up to buy their own home. Their West Indian values and morals remained strong and they opened their home to close family and friends to live with them until they were able to buy their own properties.

Mum and Dad’s plan was to spend a few years in the UK and then return ‘home’, but that ended up being over 50 years. From as far back as I can remember, they would purchase many household items saying, “this is for when we go back home”. They are now both in their 80’s and are finally putting things in place to “go back home” to live out the last years of their lives and to enjoy the house they worked so hard for in the UK.

I commend the courage and resilience of the Windrush generation who paved the way for my parents and many other Caribbean families – leaving the islands they knew as “home” to venture to an unknown country thousands of miles way for better opportunities and help rebuild a nation – a nation, I call home.

[Donna’s parents – passport photos]

Lorna Dwyer

[Senior Performance Co-ordinator – Age Group Lead at British Athletics]

I often dream about the sacrifice, resilience and unstinting loyalty of public servants who sailed from the Caribbean to rebuild post-war Britain.

I am more than overwhelmed that 22 June is now formally known as Windrush Day, which is a major victory. I am glad for that, because it is about my ancestors, my elders making that decision to come to the United Kingdom, to what they saw as the mother country. When Britain called, they answered that call to come and The Windrush generation stepped forward and very much laid the path for other migrant communities coming into the UK.  It’s fair to say as well as its great achievements they suffered some discrimination, some huge challenges integrating into a country that was not a diverse country!

I have attended many events and listened to many heart-breaking and powerful stories about the Windrush generation. Whilst these have been very eye-opening experiences it as also encouraged me to think about my own place in life. How much I learnt from my late grandparents and how they equip my parents to have a life in Britain.

I owe the Windrush generation so much respect, for their bravery and for their courage which has paved the way for me and my daughter’s life, as well as the lives of current and future generations.

[Lorna’s Grandfather]

[Lorna’s Grandmother]

Karen Forbes 

[Event Manager – Athlete Logistics]

I have always known that my parents were from the island of St Kitts and Nevis a Commonwealth country, Saint Christopher, Nevis, and Anguilla was a British colony in the West Indies from 1882 to 1983, consisting of the islands of Anguilla (until 1980), Nevis, and Saint Christopher (or Saint Kitts). From 1882 to 1951, and again from 1980, the colony was known simply as Saint Christopher and Nevis. It gained independence in 1983 as the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.  Independence Day is something that my parents still celebrate. They are very proud of their heritage and told me stories from a very early age of white sandy beaches (dad claims Nevis has the best in the West Indies), mango trees and natural hot springs. My dad once stumped his toe running to see the Queen when she visited his island of Nevis in 1966.

We have not talked much about their journey to the UK, but recognition of the impact from the Windrush inspired me to ask questions of how they travelled to England and their feelings of leaving their homeland behind.  Both my grandparents set off leaving their children behind in St Christopher and Nevis (which was what it was called then) to find work and create a new life for themselves in England.

My mom came to England at the age of 10 years old and my dad at the age of 15 years old.  They missed the warm sunshine. My mom told me stories of the long journey by a very big ship, (my Aunt remembered the ship she had travelled on was the SS Begona) where the smell of diesel made her feel very sick.  Being very tiny she remembered getting lost on board.  The journey was long ending in Genoa, Italy from there it was on to England by a noisy train where she was met by her dad at Moor Street Station, Birmingham. Birmingham was cold and dark, with smoke came out of the house chimneys, my Aunt recollected that she thought at the time this was bizarre as she had only ever seen smoke from fires!

When I was 18, I visited St Kitts and Nevis and I loved it, the hot sun and gorgeous beaches I couldn’t understand why anyone wanted to leave. In fact, I cried when it was time to come home. I often ask why my grandparents didn’t go back, but now I understand that living in England longer than they had lived in St Kitts and Nevis meant that England is well and truly home.

[Karen’s Grandmother]

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