Celebrating the stories of the Windrush generation
22 June is the 73rd Anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s journey to UK shores and we are celebrating members of the Windrush Generation from Islington and learning what it was like coming to the UK. Today, we celebrate the journey of two of our residents and the contributions they have made to enrich our borough.
“My Name is Primrose Swire and I was born in Kingston Jamaica in December 1955. My parents were very young when I was born, so my father took me to live with my paternal grandmother. I have very little recollection of my parents at that time. I had seen pictures of them, but it did not register that they were my parents. My father came to London in 1958 when I was 2 and my mother followed in 1961 where she was reunited with him.
“I arrived in the UK as a 9 year old in 1967. By then, I had 3 younger brothers. England was a shock to my system, I arrived in the winter and the weather was at its worst. There was lots of snow and fog and it was bitterly cold. I suffered from chilblains as a result of putting frozen hands on the heater, which was very distressing.
“Once I had settled into life in Britain, I started junior school. I found the British education system challenging as the teachers blatantly discriminated against me and other Caribbean children at my school. Our home was really busy as there was another Jamaican family living with us which common practice at the time. Caribbean families found it difficult to rent homes due to severe racism. It was normal for families to pool their money together to save for deposits to buy houses that they could eventually move into.
“My parents worked really hard to build a life for me and my brothers and I helped my mother with household chores, cooking and taking care of my younger brothers. My last brother was born when I was 16 years old.
“After secondary school I went to typing college to pursue a career as a secretary. I then got married and had 3 children. While my children were young I branched out in to working in the social care sector which was something that I enjoyed as I have always enjoyed helping people.
“I am now retired and am the proud nanny of 3 grandchildren. Even in retirement I am still helping others within my community.
“For me I have never lost my connection to Jamaica, although I have a British accent! I visit Jamaica very often. I am grateful to my parents who have now passed away, because they took a leap of faith and helped to build back Britain despite the discrimination they faced. They taught me resilience and strength to be able to carve out a good life for me and my children and grandchildren.”
Primrose, a member of the Windrush generation
Natalie Blenman tells of her Grandmothers journey to the UK…
“My Grandmother lived in Guyana in South America until 1962. She was 31 when she came to the UK with my dad, who was 6 at the time. She had previously sent her four eldest children over to live with her mother in Hackney and followed shortly with her 6 year old, 5 year old, 2 year old and her 9 month old baby. She travelled on the boat by herself with all her children making the journey from Guyana to Calcutta through to Essex.
“Gran describes her journey aboard the boat as ‘wonderful’ and says she was treated like a ‘queen’. The captain of the boat ensured she had plenty of food and fresh fruits for the children and regularly came to visit her, as did many other passengers, as my Grandmother liked to share her food.
“When she arrived in London, she was housed with her children in Holly Park Estate and later onto the Elthorne Estate in Islington. She worked as a cook at several Islington schools until she retired, and continues to live in Islington now and just celebrated her 90th birthday last week. This picture of her then and now is beautiful and signifies her strength and resilience.
“My dad continues to work as a semi-retired Anaesthetist for the NHS. Several of my family members, first and second generation Windrush have moved back to the Caribbean.”
Grandmother of Natalie, a member of the Windrush generation