The Windrush generation have been in the news a lot recently, largely due to the scandal surrounding their right to remain in the UK. Between 1948 and 1971, 500,000 migrants arrived here from Commonwealth countries, many of them children who travelled on their parents’ passports. Thousands of these children never applied for travel documents of their own, and as the Home Office did not keep records of those they granted leave to remain, or issue any paperwork, it has become very difficult for some of the Windrush generation, as they are known, to prove they reside in the UK legally. Those without documents have been told they need to provide evidence in order to continue working, receive NHS treatment, and even remain in the UK.
The scandal prompted former Home Secretary Amber Rudd to apologise and eventually resign over the ‘appalling way the Windrush generation have been treated’. Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said there is ‘absolutely no question’ of the Windrush generation’s right to remain.
Amid the scandal, Huddersfield-based social enterprise Kirklees Local TV have been working on producing a documentary that will tell the story of the thousands of people who arrived from Commonwealth countries. Many of the economic migrants descended on Huddersfield, forming an integral part of the social fabric of the local communities. The documentary will share their struggle to prove their British citizenship, the discrimination they faced, and their sense of personal identity and heritage.
Earlier this year, Kirklees Local TV proposed their project to the Heritage Lottery Fund, with support from academics from the University of Huddersfield, and were thrilled to receive the grant, making their documentary ‘Windrush: The Years After – A Community Legacy on Film’ possible. Both Professor Barry Doyle and Dr Heather Norris Nicholson from the University of Huddersfield were keen to lend their support to the proposal, as it is an invaluable opportunity to allow greater understanding of a narrative that is often unheard or misunderstood concerning Britain’s colonial past. ‘I hope that the project will give recognition to the immense contribution made by African Caribbean individuals and their families in the past 70 years or so. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the diversity of those experiences – the resilience, courage and determination involved. The project brings personal and public histories together and we see how local, national and international narratives of change interconnect over time and between places. This offers a sense of ownership and helps to make history more inclusive. That in turn informs our own sense of selfhood, identity and belonging, which benefits everyone,’ says Dr Nicholson.
The CEO of Kirklees Local TV and chair of the Windrush documentary, Milton Brown, told us more about the project: ‘We want it to have a Huddersfield focus. So when we do interviews and people tell their stories, it’s about what was happening here, in Huddersfield, at a particular time.’
Milton and his team of local volunteers have been interviewing members of the African-Caribbean community over the last month. Each interview took around one to two hours, but the team had to take each one and make it into a case study lasting for around five to ten minutes in length. Although difficult, they are working in themes, so topics such as employment and discrimination are grouped together with input from every interviewee with the aim of creating a single narrative out of multiple individual stories. Beyond the initial 45-minute documentary, the team at Kirklees hope to make the original full-length interviews available for educational use in schools, colleges, and at the University of Huddersfield.
‘This documentary will enrich our community. 30 or 40 years down the line, you’re going to see certain things that are still happening today. I know for a fact that some of the things I’ve heard from my elders are still happening today, just more subtly,’ says Milton. The documentary aims to highlight how, although many of the economic migrants settled and were able to find work as nurses, drivers, and cleaners, too many of them faced discrimination when seeking work. ‘You’ll see that even today, 16–25 year old African-Caribbean descendants are still among the most unemployable,’ says Milton.
The sad reality is that some things have not changed much since the 1950s when the first migrants arrived in Huddersfield. Many of them were highly-skilled craftsmen and nurses, arriving from countries belonging to the former British Empire, speaking English and expecting a warm reception from what they saw as their mother-country. But the welcome that they received was often far from warm.
‘We interviewed someone yesterday called Mrs Morris, who talked about coming over to a country that felt so dark and dismal she wanted to go back to Trinidad and Tobago,’ shares Milton. ‘She wanted to be a nurse, but she was only 17 and had to wait until she was 18, and then she became pregnant. She talked about the discrimination she experienced with her neighbour, who was a teddy boy back in the 60s. He refused to speak to her, and even today, Mrs Morris laughed when she told us this, even today he still doesn’t speak to her.’ Some people they interviewed wished to remain anonymous as they were afraid of the backlash they might receive from the things they were sharing.
Although the UK has progressed massively, the documentary reveals the ingrained prejudices of the past, some of which do still linger today. But ultimately, Milton has been inspired by the stories he has heard while filming the documentary: ‘Personally, the best thing for me about this story is reflection. Remembering those who came here and created this foundation for the next generation, to build strong communities and strong families. I felt privileged and honoured to be able to sit there and listen to people tell me their life story. What we have here is a historical piece, so if someone at the university is studying ethnicity, or the African-Caribbean community, or economic migrants, this story will be told over and over again. It will be invaluable research for future students and historians.’
What struck Milton the most was the solidarity displayed by those first migrants to arrive in Huddersfield: ‘We were barred from pubs and clubs, there were signs saying “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”, and I remember black people and the Irish were just happy to be put before the dogs. The early generation who came here were faced with huge resistance, and I’m so proud of how they stuck together. These were people from all different countries, who all had stereotypical views of one another, much like the British, Irish, Welsh and Scottish. So the Jamaicans, Barbadians, Trinidadians, all had different views of each other and they all arrived in a country called Great Britain, and because of the resistance they met because of the colour of the skin, they stuck together. They made it work, despite the resistance, and that’s what inspired me and made me feel really proud of the African-Caribbean community.’
Another important part of the ‘Windrush: The Years After’ documentary was the local team of volunteers who carried out the interviews. Milton and Ryan at Kirklees Local TV trained up volunteers in film-making skills, so it truly was a local production. Diversity was crucial when building the team: ‘If we didn’t have this diversity around the table then there’d be vital stuff we would have missed,’ explains Milton. ‘We didn’t want a single story told by an upper-class African-Caribbean descendant. We wanted to go right through, from the upper- and middle-classes through to the working-poor and very poor. We want the story told from many different perspectives, and that’s why we’re working with local volunteers.’
It is clear that this documentary will be an indispensable educational tool for the people of Huddersfield, giving them the opportunity to learn more about the people that make up the fabric of their society. ‘I’ve travelled up and down the country and abroad, and I just think Huddersfield is such a beautiful, multicultural town, with a rich history,’ says Milton. ‘Irrespective of leaders, it has always tried to do its best for its diverse communities. Some people we interviewed aren’t happy with the local authority, but for me, it is what it is, and we work with the cards we’re dealt. I think at the last count we had 67 different ethnicities in one town, and we are helping to contribute to that harmony.’
‘Windrush: The Years After’ will be shown on the 1st November on Kirklees Local TV as well as online and at the University of Huddersfield. The team are also aiming to create a Facebook page for the project which will act as a discussion board, where anyone with ties to the African-Caribbean community can come to share their stories and experiences. More interviews will be added to their database continuously, which will be available in the future as an invaluable research tool.