“The Windrush people endured a lot of abuse. Over time you see and hear and put up with a lot of racism in all forms, but we knew no one would drive us out.”
Former nurse and activist Louise Garvey, shares how “It was a lot harder being a woman in the Windrush generation.”
Louise arrived in the UK in 1957 and as a teenager of the Windrush Generation she faced unique challenges. She recounts that it was never her decision to come to England.
Her mother had arrived in the early 1950s while she continued to be raised by her grandparents in Jamaica. She laughs saying that the first she heard of coming over to England was from listening into her grandparents. “I heard my grandad say, ‘I think you better write to Alice (Louise’s mother) and tell her to send for Louise because she’s reached that age now” she adds that it was not until years later she realised “they didn’t want to take responsibility in case I got pregnant.”
‘It was a lot harder being a woman in the Windrush generation’
Louise says that England was “a strange place and I came in February, so it was cold and horrible. And we had to learn and adept to British customs.” Although “it worked out well” as she began her nursing career at 17.
Living in a hospital in a strange country Louise found herself homesick I “was never accustomed to being on my own so when I had to live there, I felt so lonely. In Jamaica I had large family and was always ‘with people”
“I didn’t like it so I just packed my case one evening and went home and my mum opened the door and said, ‘what are you doing here?” the hospital didn’t take her back but her mum applied to a “different hospital and I got in quickly because they were short of nurses then so I went.
“But then I went home again but this time my mum didn’t let me” adding that they got on the bus and her mum took her straight back to the hospital and said: “you’re not coming back here again.”
“I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse.” She says that the lifechanging moment happened when she was a young child back in Jamaica. “I had an auntie who was pregnant, and she fell ill and they sent for the nurse.
“I can still picture it now; we lived on a hill, and I was on the veranda, and I could see the nurse coming up the road. She had this white uniform on, she had this lovely white cap on carrying a case. and I thought there and then ‘that’s what I want to be, that is what I’m going to be’ from that moment I wanted to be a nurse.”
Once qualified Louise began to notice “racism start raising its horrible head.” She she didn’t face initial racism, but a few years later as more people came over to England “it seemed to me that we began to go backwards There was a feeling that too many foreigners were coming into the country.”
When there became competition for positions “that’s when the racism began, and it wasn’t just racism from colleagues but racism from your patients too.” On one occasion Louise was tasked with giving a patient a bed bath and “this gentleman told me ‘Take your black hands off me.”
‘I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse’
Louise soon became involved with groups campaigning for equality. “I was brought up doing things in the community, so it wasn’t strange to me that when issues arose about standing up for our rights that I got myself involved.” She was involved with associations that educated people on Caribbean customs and campaigned for racial equality.
Louise also educated medical staff on treatments for black patients. She says it was all about “going into care places and talking about the importance of care of the skin and what it does and how it can contribute to healing” so that the healing process can happen faster. In 2002 Louise published her book ‘Nursing lives of black nurses in Nottingham’.
She adds that the UK has seen a lot of change since then as “people from all levels, cultures, differences work together.”
She says that: “a lot of cultural customs got put in place that are still in place now, it’s about understanding and sharing and working with one another. A lot of what you take for granted now is built on the shoulders of the Windrush generation”