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Windrush stories: One family's lasting legacy

BIG DAY: Yana’s sister Angela, mum Cynthia, Yana and daughter Gabriela after receiving her MBE

I AM THE product of Windrush Generation parents whose hard work and willingness to seize opportunities has transpired into a legacy that has spanned three generations of our family.

My mother, Cynthia Daley, was sent to England to pursue a better life at the age of 14.

She left St Ann’s, Jamaica, and came to England in 1967, alone and without the comfort of her parents, or a chaperone.

Arriving in the UK and seeing the fog of an industrial Birmingham, feeling the cold weather and seeing the smoke bellowing out of chimneys for the first time, she recalls: “I thought that the houses were on fire.”

Cynthia joined her mother Mavis, who like many other parents, had gone ahead of their children to establish a base in the UK.

Not long after, I was born in September 1969 and my sister Angela followed in September 1970.

FAMILY: Yana as a young girl with her parents

Soon, the whole family, including my dad Keith, also from St Ann’s, moved to an 11th floor flat in a 13-storey tower block in Balsall Heath.

Times were hard for my parents raising two young girls in that block of flats. They often needed to use the stairs when the lift broke down.

You can imagine how tough it was struggling up 11 flights of stairs with groceries, children and pushchairs because someone had put a lit cigarette in the disposal chute causing a fire and making the lift out of order.

Years earlier my mum had met a man known as Mr Lee.

He had pioneered a self-build scheme for the local African Caribbean educational charity ACAFESS in response to discrimination in the housing market and the struggle many black families faced in finding suitable housing.

However, she had forgotten to tell my dad, Keith about it.

When she eventually did it was not long before they and others signed up to the scheme and began building on the land ACAFESS had acquired.

The 13 men who signed up pooled together and formed a labour force that completed the building project with a collective of efforts, skillsets and a unified mindset.

All 13 houses took about three years to build, an amazing achievement for these families. The homes are still standing but survived by only four of the original family members today.

With a sense of accomplishment, the families moved into their houses – no more broken lifts, no more feeling stuck in a flat and gardens for the children to grow up.

News of the great work that ACAFESS was doing in the community spread far and led to a visit from Prince Charles in 1986.

ROYAL VISIT: Prince Charles is given a tour of the ACAFESS premises (photo: Mick Turner)

Growing up in this community had a huge impact on me and my generation.

We were raised by aunts and uncles who were tradesmen, hairdressers, cake makers, seamstresses and construction workers. I remember thinking ‘Everyone’s family dynamics were the same as mine’, as I ran through our soon-to-be new home and played with my dad’s tools or helped him maintain the garden.

My sister and I had access to a wide set of skills through our aunts and uncles without realising one day how valuable such a skillset would be.

On my 13th birthday I was given a sewing machine. My aunty Bess from London taught me to sew when I visited her in the summer holidays. I loved creating things, and would follow her lead, just like I did with dad. I thought everyone had access to creativity. I would sell my designs as we were not always allowed outside.

On hearing Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson for the first time, I understood how rhythm worked with words and I began writing songs and poems.

I won a poetry contest and later joined Ebony Arts theatre group in Small Heath, Birmingham.

This inspired me to start songwriting.

I was later signed to Warner Chappell publishing. I wrote two songs on the In Return album with Shola Ama that won a Brit Award.

ACHIEVEMENT: Yana with the awards she has won

My parents’ legacy gave me a lot of confidence and a great platform to grow and trust my creative instincts. I never understood their struggles but rather benefitted from them. I think that’s what legacy does. It creates a platform for the next generation.

In 2001, after moving to London to study BSc Environmental Science, at Greenwich University, I pioneered the UK’s first black-owned cosmetics company, Yana London, and also launched millenial for which I was awarded an MBE for services to cosmetics in 2009, 23 years after Prince Charles visited the ACAFESS building scheme.

LEGACY: Yana's daughter Gabriela

In 2011, I received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Roehampton.

It has been wonderful to hand down the legacy of my parents to my daughter Gabriela, aged, 20 and nephew Makai, aged 16, who both have their own businesses, Gabriela with and Makai with @makai_ streetwear.

The Windrush legacy is that we were invited to the UK to create impact and make a change – and we are doing just that.

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