75 Year Anniversary of Windrush
22 June 2023 marks 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush docked at the Port of Tilbury in Essex in 1948. Rethink Mental Illness trustee, Garrick Prayogg, reflects on the historic anniversary, the positive impact of migration to the UK, and his passion to influence the ways in which mental health services are affecting West Indian communities to this day.
Originally a cruise ship and passenger line launched in Germany in 1930, the HMT Empire Windrush travelled from Jamaica to London, bringing with it one of the early groups of West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom to help rebuild the country after it was devastated during the Second World War.
There were 1,027 passengers, more than 800 from the Caribbean islands such as Jamaica and Barbados as shown by the iconic photographs of these Windrush passengers setting foot in the United Kingdom for the first time.
One of the passengers was a dressmaker from Kingston, Jamaica called Evelyn Wauchope.
Evelyn was a stowaway on the HMT Empire Windrush. But when she was discovered, she benefited from a whip-round organised by some of her fellow Windrush passengers, which raised enough money to pay her fare. She settled in this country for some time before emigrating to America where she and her Barbadian husband settled for the rest of their long and, by all accounts, successful lives.
Evelyn Wauchope's story is a Windrush story
Evelyn's story represents the can-do attitude of the Windrush generations who wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families in what they called the “Mother Country.” They settled in London and in other major cities and worked in the NHS, transport, the postal service, and other industries and became part of their local communities.
Black and other ethnic minority people continue to face discrimination and unfair treatment...including inequalities in access, experience and outcomes in our mental health services.
The contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants to the political, social, and cultural make-up of the United Kingdom is considerable. Fittingly, the NHS will also mark its 75th Anniversary. You simply cannot speak about the Windrush and the Windrush generation without acknowledging Caribbean nurses who answered the post-war call and came to build the NHS and rebuild this country. Windrush is British history.
But, despite this contribution, Black and other ethnic minority people continue to face discrimination and unfair treatment in their places of work, their communities and other areas of our society – including inequalities in access, experience and outcomes in our mental health services.
As I write this blog, the BBC has just published an article highlighting the "historic injustice" of hundreds of people who were long-term sick or mentally unwell being deported back to the Caribbean without due process. Many of these repatriations would now be deemed unlawful, as the patients would have lacked the mental capacity to agree to leave.
With my background in community development policy and regeneration and a Trustee with Rethink Mental Illness, I am passionate and committed about influencing mental health and other services to achieve better outcomes for individuals and communities.
More recently, the Windrush scandal has dominated headlines due to the unlawful targeting of the Windrush generation and their children as a result of the ‘hostile environment’ policies where some of them were wrongly detained, deported or denied the right to work or access basic services despite having the rights to live in the United Kingdom.
The Windrush scandal intensified the campaign for Windrush Day, which was first celebrated in 2018. And the National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station, designed by Jamaican sculptor, Basil Watson and unveiled by Prince William is another fitting tribute to the Windrush generation.
So, let us celebrate this 75th anniversary of Windrush generation and mark this shared British history and for their strength, sacrifice, and service.
You can find information on 75th anniversary events at: Windrush 75.