Campaigners are uniting to raise awareness of a major upcoming anniversary for the Windrush Generation.
75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived on UK shores, people are calling for a year of commemoration on par with that of a ‘Diamond Jubilee’.
The Windrush Generation – referring not just to the hundreds who made the voyage from Jamaica in 1948, but those who followed suit throughout the Fifties and Sixties – were the forefathers of much of today’s Black British population. This includes the parents of activist Patrick Vernon, who convened the Windrush 75 Network in their honour.
“My dad is 91 while my mum is in her 80s,” Vernon said. “By the time we reach the 80th or the 85th anniversary, most of the generation will no longer be here. It’s very important to acknowledge and thank those members of the generation up and down the country while we can.”
Plans for ways to pay homage are already underway, such as actor-comedian Lenny Henry writing both a play and a TV drama to mark the occasion.
“It’s vital this year to celebrate the courage of those pioneers who gave up the life they knew to seek a better one here in Britain. They paved the way for those of us who have followed,” said Henry, whose parents were also of the Windrush Generation.
“With my one-man play August in England and upcoming TV series Three Little Birds, I want to bring their stories to wider attention in 2023. Big respect to those pioneers – we stand on their shoulders.”
Windrush stories will also be featured in museums nationwide, allowing people to learn more about how their arrival impacted the cities they live in and what life was like for them there. Derby Museums, which held an exhibition focused on Derby’s West Indian population last year, said it will continue to build upon its Windrush-centric work in 2023.
“Museums are civic spaces where stories are told. More often than not this is done by way of objects and art – but many of those people who made that journey 75 years ago did not bring objects with them,” Executive Director Tony Butler said. “Over the years, as places of memory, museums and community heritage organisations across the UK have collected oral histories and memories to share their stories with the public.”
“This is like a Diamond Jubilee for modern, diverse Britain”Patrick Vernon, Windrush 75 Network
Historian David Olusoga described the arrival of the Windrush as ‘a pivotal moment in Black history and British history’. “We see its legacy every day, when we turn on the radio or TV, walk down the High Street or cheer for England at the World Cup,” he said. “So it’s important that the anniversary is marked in a significant way and that everyone is invited to take part.”
This isn’t the only seminal moment in British history reaching its 75th anniversary this year – 1948 also saw the foundation of the NHS, in which members of the Windrush Generation played an instrumental role.
NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard said: “From 1948 to today, the NHS has always welcomed talent from around the world. Many of the new arrivals’ contributions to the health service helped to create a new and free health care system for all. I am honoured to work alongside their descendants and generations that followed in their footsteps.”
Windrush iconography will also appear on a series of commemorative stamps and a special 50p coin from the Royal Mail and Royal Mint, respectively.
However, many believe that more should be done to honour this anniversary. A poll by the Windrush 75 Network found that 60% of Britons agree that we ‘owe a great deal to the Windrush generation and should recognise their contribution as part of our national story’.
Furthermore, there are calls for the Government to recognise their struggles, particularly by making amends for the 2018 scandal that saw many from the generation deported, detained, denied benefits and made homeless.
Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said: “The 75th anniversary will be an emotional day in many communities as we remember the sacrifices of a generation which gave so much to this country, but it is bittersweet. A time to celebrate how migration and diversity has helped build modern Britain – but also to put pressure on the Government to finally give the victims of the scandal the compensation they deserve.”
Vernon reiterated that efforts should be made throughout 2023 to honour Windrush history, pay due respect to those of the generation still with us and ensure a positive future for their descendants. “This is like a Diamond Jubilee for modern, diverse Britain. We are celebrating four generations of contribution, legacy, struggle and positive change. And it is a moment to look to the future too, at how we address the challenges to come.”