When the story broke in 2018 that there were people from the Caribbean who had lived for years in the UK but were now being threatened with deportation, we made an announcement to our local congregation at Pilgrim Church, Nottingham.
I was astonished at the number of people who came up to me after the meeting and said, “Pastor Clive, I’m concerned about my family.”
We decided that as a church we had to take action and we had to act fast. So we set up surgeries where those affected could seek advice and invited the Home Office to explain the Government’s compensation and status schemes.
A particular case that stands out to me is a gentleman in his sixties who tried to travel to Jamaica for the burial of his brother. He was told by the Home Office that he was able to go, but it was not guaranteed that he could return home.
And so we supported him. We explained the impact that this had on his life, because he was denied access to a family moment of gathering, which is a category that you can make a claim for.
I’m pleased to say that we successfully got that gentleman multiple thousands of pounds of compensation. I know that money doesn’t heal everything, but it is a statement of recognition that a wrong has been done.
‘money doesn’t heal everything, but it is recognition that a wrong has been done’
The biggest challenge in our campaign was to generate the confidence that people can confide in us and get support. There was a lack of trust in the Home Office from many black people whose relationships with institutions had been tainted by lived experience of discrimination and racism.
Another obstacle is that the process of documenting the suffering these people have experienced is time consuming and often re-traumatising.
So there was the hurdle of trust, the hurdle in terms of administration and the hurdle in thinking ‘Is this going to be worth it?’
When this generation arrived in the United Kingdom in response to a labour shortage, they came with the mentality they were going to help rebuild the mother country.
They expected the streets to be paved with gold, but sadly the reception in some quarters was very frosty. The infamous signs that many people were accustomed to would state: ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs’.
But despite the racism, this generation decided they were going to stick with this country. So they bought houses and had their families here.
They also brought an enthusiasm and love of religion to Britain, as they were the some of the first people to invest in churches to express their faith.
‘Great Britain is a nation built
Now, 75 years on, I think the country is slowly recognising the great and extraordinary contribution that the Windrush pioneers made to rebuilding Britain and inspiring the nation through their culture, music, food and art.
But lack of coverage in the media means we need to deepen public engagement and continue to generate the knowledge that application for compensation is still open and you could be eligible.
A bigger part of our future strategy is looking to how we support members of the Windrush generation. It’s important that we understand the level of social and wellbeing care needed by a generation who are mostly octogenarians.
Unfortunately, we are also aware that we have to anticipate areas where this could happen again. For example, those whose parents haven’t registered as British citizens could be vulnerable to a scandal given the ever-changing discourse surrounding immigration and legislation.
We must remember that Great Britain is a nation built on immigration. It has taken people from all over the world to build this country. The Windrush generation are here because they are a part of Great Britain and its colonialist past.
We are often uncomfortable with the conversation around immigration but it’s about recognising that it is very much a part of British history.
I want to see that everyone has a fair shot of reaching their potential, whatever the colour of their skin and whatever their background. The legacy Pilgrim Church wants to leave is that we stood up for injustice and helped others reach their potential as citizens.
People have given their lives for citizenship and what has been done to the Windrush generation is a travesty. They were wrongly classified as illegal and that didn’t happen 200 years ago, it happened in 2018.
Have we made progress? Yes. Is there still work to do? We better believe there is.