Today- the 22nd June 2023- marks 75 years since the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in Britain. Now 75 years later, this milestone in national history is celebrated as a symbol of the multi-ethnic society and culture in Britain today. Here at Race Equality Matters, we emphasise the importance of acknowledging Windrush, recognising the significance of the past on society’s present and future.


Arriving at Tilbury Docks in 1948, 492 individuals from the Caribbean began their new life in Britain. As part of the wider post-war migration of many groups, movements across the Commonwealth facilitated the development of a resilient Black British community. This voyage was one of the first post-war trips from the Caribbean, and other parts of the Commonwealth, and the people that moved following World War Two (1948-1971) are now known as the “Windrush Generation”. Though not always voluntary migration, this period of movement and transition shaped Anglo-Caribbean identities and their prominence in British society to this day.


Many of these people moved in search of the prosperous life they were promised by the British government in order to meet post-war labour shortages, however, upon arrival many faced backlash and racism from their white neighbours. Areas within urban regions of the UK- such as Notting Hill- developed a strong Caribbean community, though by the 1950s racially-motivated riots and violent attacks swept across London, Bristol, Birmingham and other cities. In response to such riots, resistance continued through events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and by figures of resilience, such as Claudia Jones, Darcus Howe and Beverley Bryan. Since the Windrush scandal that emerged in 2018 and ongoing changes to government compensation, the Windrush Generation continue in their fight for equal rights and treatment.

What is Britain doing 75 years on to celebrate the Windrush movement?

Talk of Windrush and the significance of Black British culture in society is sweeping the nation this week. The Royal Mail have released 8 new stamp designs to mark the anniversary, each designed by Black British artists including Alvin Kofi and Kareen Cox, to ensure the legacy of the Windrush continues. Sir Lenny Henry has also announced the new ITV drama that follows a family’s fictional encounter as they relocated from Jamaica to Britain, named ‘Three Little Birds’ that will be televised later this year. At a local level, community groups and organisations have bid for a share of the £750,000 provided under the government’s Windrush Day Grant Scheme to fund celebrations across the UK.


The NHS is also celebrating 75 years since its founding, in which many of the Windrush generation took up work within the NHS. In fact, ethnically diverse colleagues make up 42% of the NHS’ medical staff to today. The foundations of the NHS have the Windrush generation’s contribution to thank, and new waves of migration continue to provide an invaluable asset even today.


Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of the NHS, marked the Windrush in a statement:


“The 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the work of our Black and other ethnic minority colleagues and their significant contributions to the National Health Service, which is also marking its 75th year… They were critical to the formation of the NHS, and I am honoured to work alongside their descendants and generations that followed in their footsteps.” 


What does Windrush and our reflections signify for the workplace?


Though the Windrush generation came to Britain in search of work and a new life, the reality was often different to the high hopes they held. Stemming from the injustices that fuelled the British Empire and Commonwealth, a historian’s analysis under the Home Office enquiry into the Windrush scandal noted the:


“Deep-rooted racism of the Windrush scandal…during the period 1950-1981, every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation was designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK”.


Facing racist ideology from the very top, Black workers faced discrimination within their workplaces too. Such discrimination has not been addressed, and very much continues today. Business in the Community conducted research in 2022 to ascertain the influence of Windrush on employment in Britain, and found that 4% of paid workers in the UK have a Caribbean background. It found that these employees are underrepresented in senior high paid level roles and working professionals have the highest average pay gap for all ethnicities of £3,814. This research on those of Caribbean background suggests many feel unsupported in the workplace as only 14% have a mentor but 34% stated they would like one. Sectors these employees are most likely to be employed in include: retail, IT and telecoms, health services, education, local government and transportation.


How well represented are those from a Caribbean background in your industry and workplace?


Do ‘historic’ issues continue to permeate in your workplace today?


Whilst it is clear that barriers facing the Windrush Generation continue in society and the workplace today. However, Windrush Day (coined ‘Windrush 75’ this year) is a time for both reflection and celebration. The contribution this brave and pioneering generation have made to Britain is felt everyday in music, business, TV, and much much more. By celebrating this legacy, we can celebrate their achievements and strive for more change.


Their legacy can be best upheld as we strive for racial justice and equality in society and the workplace.


What is your organisation doing to celebrate the legacy and contribution of Windrush 75 years on?


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