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Six members of the Windrush Generation on settling in the UK

ON HIS OWN: With no family ties when he arrived in the UK, John Richards settled at the Deep Shelter in Clapham

THE 70TH anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush is bittersweet for many. While the year should mark a time of celebration for the Windrush Generation’s contribution to the British economy and culture, it is marred by the ongoing scandal and treatment of those who made Britain what it is today.

Those citizens, who travelled a lengthy journey from the Caribbean to the UK, should be celebrated and their stories documented to gain a full understanding of the trials and tribulations, successes and failures that they went through.

During a visit to the Learie Constantine Centre in north-west London, we got to do just that, as we sat down with those of the Windrush Generation to hear their stories.

Phil Sealy MBE JP

Barbados-born Phil Sealy MBE relocated to England with the prospects of pursuing his career in nursing.

“I arrived in the UK in February 1956. I was a student nurse at St. James’ Hospital in Balham,” he said.

While studying nursing, Mr Sealy witnessed the racism and segregation that many Caribbean migrants were faced with.

“My biggest shock when I came to England was not just the weather, but the people and how little they know about Caribbeans and their attitudes. Also it was interesting in social circles to see how people were treated,” he added. “If you went to church, you were welcome but if you went too often they were encouraging you not to come regularly. So that’s how black churches came about, we started to do our own and that grew.

“As far as the discrimination goes, I don’t think you can ever overcome it, you just learn to live with it and get on with what you came to do.

“That’s why I am still here after all these years.”

Lloyd Nesbeth

Kingston-raised Lloyd Nesbeth, first came to the UK at the age of 23.

“My first impression of the UK? I was quite disappointed when I got here and the welcome that I got wasn’t too pleasant,” he recalled.

“Life was a little bit difficult at the start. While I could get a job because I was qualified from an apprenticeship I did in Jamaica, I couldn’t get no place to live.

“When I would look for rooms and knock the doors they’d say ‘no room!’ and then they would put up a sign saying ‘no blacks’ to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Racism was something that many Caribbean migrants experienced when coming to the UK, and initially made Mr Nesbeth yearn for happier times in his home country of Jamaica.

“I miss my friends mainly and the good weather and I was quite happy when I was in Jamaica – I can’t say I can pin- point any unhappiness when I was there.”
While facing some adversity during his initial years in the UK, Mr Nesbeth took comfort in the family he had here at the time alongside the appreciation for an apprenticeship which made getting a job far more accessible than most.

“I had a friend and one cousin and they were recently in the country.

“I kept saying I’d go back to Jamaica and each year I’d say it but you just get use to it,” admitted the retired accountant.

As we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush, Mr Nesbeth is keen to share the stories that he and many like him experienced all those years ago.

“To mark the Windrush Generation we need more facilities for the young kids, and more parents teaching them our history,” he said.

“What we learn and teach our children is important, and the anniversary of Windrush shows how important it is to tell our stories and share it with the next generation.”

Len O’Gilvie

“My father use to visit America often and I remember before I went to England he said to me ‘do not expect England to change to you, you change to it’. Those was the last words he said to me.”

Those were the words of Len O’Gilvie and boy do they ring true.

Born in Saint Thomas, Jamaica, Mr O’Gilvie arrived in the UK in 1957, in a bid to live a better life – but was soon faced with the culture shock that many Caribbean migrants faced.

“My first impression of England was that I want- ed to go back home the following morning! The first thing I noticed was the houses. I saw all the chimneys and the smoke up there and the only chimneys I saw back home were in the factories and places like that,” he recalled.

Mr O’Gilvie came to the UK on his own, but went directly to stay with one of his father’s friends upon arrival.

“Living in the UK as an expat was a completely different way of life.

“Things I did six or seven months ago would’ve been normal in Jamaica but once I got to England it no longer was.”

He added: “The thing I missed the most about back home was freedom.

“Freedom from the sea, the bushes...the most difficult thing when I came here for the first six months was missing my parents.

“Also, getting jobs was difficult but after a while I started to educate myself and began to move ahead.”

Sixty-one years later, Mr O’Gilve is now the proud father of two boys and says he’s lucky that they “listen to what I tell them.”

“One son is 40 years old and the other is 30. They more or less plan my life now!”

Vinnette Fuller

For Jamaican-born Vinnette Fuller, her journey and life in the UK has been marked by difficulty.

Fuller came to the UK in 2002 with aims to further pursue her career in nursing, after at- tending the National Academy Nursing School in Jamaica.

“I’ve been living here for 16 years now, and I decided to come to the UK because whenever I was watching the news and seeing foreign countries I’d always think ‘oh God, I should be in that country to give someone help’. So I came here on my own.”

Vinnette has always had a natural instinct for helping people, right down to her childhood.

“When I tell you I was born a caring person I can remember as a little girl I would use materials to make patients and my room was the centre and I’d be a nurse,” she recalled.

“I would use my mum’s hairpins to give them all injections and use wool to give them their medications.

“And my mum always would say ‘why is she doing that?’ and that’s always been me. And if we were playing at school, I’d always have to be the nurse, otherwise it’d be a problem! So whenever I get the opportunity to care – whether I’m paid or not, I’m okay as long as I’m doing something to help somebody.”

While Vinnette wanted to help those as soon as she touched down in the UK, she soon realised the challenges that she would face.

“I didn’t know when you come to the UK you can’t just work, you have to start again in everything even if you’re qualified – man that was a problem,” she said.

“But I felt like I had to do something and I got more into care.”

After losing a care patient in 2017, Fuller felt lost and struggled with grief and discovering her purpose in the UK.

“I cared for her for 11 years before she died, and after her passing I just felt like how am I going to do what I wanted to do after losing her, after giving so much for nothing?” she said.

“But now I’m trying to be there for more people, because then it won’t be one person – I can help others who can help me.

“I think being here as an immigrant it makes a big difference because we’re not here because of anybody else – we are here to help with the situation. And that’s why I’m still here and still fighting today.”

Keith Morrison

Keith Morrison, below, came to the UK from Jamaica.

“When I came here I felt like taking the plane again,” he said. “All I saw was smoke and chimneys and I felt like I was in a forest.”

Born in the parish of Saint Thomas, Mr Morrison came to the UK on his own, but had family in the UK. “Having family in England made things alright,” he said. “Living as expats was okay for me.”

Mr Morrison has been lucky enough to travel to and from Jamaica continuously throughout the years, keeping close ties to his family, friends and roots back home.

“I started to travel from England to Jamaica from 1972 all the way to now. I go back every year.”

The father-of-eight makes it clear that he has led a good life in the UK, from finding work to raising his children. “All of my kids are parents at the moment and they’re doing fine. I can’t complain.”

‘Big John’ John Richards

John Richards came to the UK directly on the HMT SS Empire Windrush.

“I was just about to turn 22 years old when I came to England on my own,” he said.

Born in 1926, in the Parish of Portmore, Jamaica, Richards remembers every detail of his journey to the UK like it was yesterday.

“We left Jamaica on the ship and stopped off at Cuba. We then left Cuba to go to Mexico, hen back to Cuba and onto Bermuda,” he recalled.

“Then we left Bermuda and we came to England where we arrived at Tilbury Docks, but I had nowhere where to go – I didn’t plan a thing.”

With no families ties and nowhere to go, Mr Richards settled at the Deep Shelter in Clapham.

“It was tricky thing. You must remember when we came here in 1948, just after the war so we didn’t have many things.”

Despite the initial challenges, the 92-year old has made a great life for himself, and his happily married to his wife of 40 years.

“I met my wife at a party. She was a bit standoffish at the time, but we became friends and we’ve been married com- ing up to 40 years now.”

As the country marks 70 years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Mr Richards shared his favourite memory from back home.

“I come from a big family. We wasn’t rich but we got on. I have three brothers and one sister, and some of my best times was with my family.”

The Voice's Made By History essay competition is back! This year we're asking students aged 9-14 to create a poem, interview someone or write about the contribution of the Windrush Generation to UK society. Submit your entry to The Voice, Made By History Competition, Unit 236 Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, London, SE1 6TE by October 19. Email for more information.

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