Tales from the Windrush Generation

Story by Carrie Hedderwick and Messenger Staff

Who are the Windrush generation?

On 22 June 1948 the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks carrying the first Caribbean people who were invited to the UK to help rebuild the country World War 2. The 1948 British Nationality Act allowed them, and others living in Commonwealth countries, British Citizenship & full rights of entry and settlement.

What is the problem?

Around 50,000 people risk deportation if they do not have the required documentation to prove that they ‘formalised’ their right to residency.

Why now?

When she was home secretary, Theresa May pledged to make the UK ‘a hostile environment’ for so-called illegal immigrants. This made employers, NHS staff, private landlords and others, responsible for checking the immigration status of anyone they wanted to employ, or provide with services, etc. Why don’t they have the correct paperwork? Many children travelled on their parents’ passports, and never became formally naturalised. Many moved here before their countries of birth became independent, so were assumed to be British. Some Home Office records were destroyed in 2010, which could have proven when people arrived in this country. The Home Office did not keep a record of people granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1st January 1973.

Richard Gordon

Richard was born in 1962, the fourth child of Frank & Elsie Gordon, who had come to the UK in 1959. Frank had been a farmer and lorry driver in Jamaica but moved hoping for a better life.

He started work as a ‘fettler’ for a small engineering company where he stayed until he retired in 1991. The family at first lived in Broomhill, moving to Earl Marshal Road in 1971. Elsie, worked nights at Nether Edge hospital as an auxiliary, but found herself helping to deliver many a new baby alongside the midwife.

Richard had several fierce encounters on Earl Marshall. He and his brothers would cut down to Fir Vale shops, but older lads would block their path, saying blacks were not to use ‘their’ road. Aged 9, he had his shirt ripped off his back twice. His father’s reaction then was to ‘paste’ him, saying new shirts cost money and Richard needed to stand up for himself. From then on, that’s exactly what he did, and there was no further trouble with other kids!

Many of the teachers at Richards school were plainly racist. For example, if he or another black pupil tried to ask or answer a question, they were often ignored. Once, Richard was unfairly blamed for an incident and refused to take the cane as punishment. That was the end of his school days. Richard’s own children have done well at school, as attitudes and opportunities have improved. His dad used to go to the airport to meet newly arriving Jamaicans, who would bring fresh fruit and veg from the islands to share. Richard explained about the money saving ‘Pardna system’, used for decades by Caribbeans. This is set up as a partnership for people to save collectively, and an established member of the community manages the ‘partnership’. It allows people without bank accounts access to credit. Payouts are rotated, so when it is your turn, your payout could enable you to put money down on a house, or other necessities. Richard’s parents retired and returned to Jamaica in 1991.

Abdul Shaif

Abdul Shaif, 53, has been living in the UK for 45 years. He came to Sheffield from Yemen in 1973. Like other Windrush families, his father had come to help meet the labour shortages in the UK at the time.

He spoke at a protest against the treatment of the Windrush families at an event in April:. “Me and my dear sister were born together and we used to be very close, but I couldn’t see her for more than 20 years. “When I was nine years old I had to leave my mother and sister because that’s the only way for Yemenis like us to earn a living at that time.” “Because of the immigration law, my sister] was not able to come to this country and I couldn’t travel back to Yemen to see her. I’m afraid that she would never get the chance to meet my family. “All we want is to have our certain life back, to at least had our health service. We came here and we worked here, we are paying the national insurance and tax, we have contributed to the economy in this country, but we lost everything “I feel really sad because nobody is fighting for us. Nobody know about us. It’s like we are giving our lives and now we’re lost.”