Windrush 75

Windrush 75 – this is OUR history

This week I was privileged to attend the Windrush 75 Service at Southwark Cathedral in London. I had a VIP ticket as Chaplaincy Officer for the Pagan Federation, attending on behalf of PF president Sarah Kerr, who sadly couldn’t make it.

I grew up in a city in the north of England which was very badly damaged during the Second World War. My mum’s parents were poor, which is not a crime, but I’m sure you can imagine how challenging it must have been to know people from another country would be coming here to work, when things were enough of a struggle for those already living here. My mum remembers some children being around with different coloured skin, but that all the kids played on the street together and didn’t care if someone had different skin or spoke a bit differently.

She also remembers the incredible contribution made to our NHS and postal service by Caribbean people who moved into her city.

That northern city did not have a wide diversity of cultures then, and neither does the rural southwest where I live now. Through my career I have been able to travel around the country and meet colleagues from all kinds of different backgrounds and my eyes have opened to the incredible diversity of peoples and cultures within the UK in the 21st century.

I only heard about Windrush a few months ago, and only asked my mum about it when I got the invitation to the service. A part of our history as a nation had totally passed me by. I began to take notice of events that were being planned and realised that this slice of history is real, ever-present, and underpins the lives of many people in the UK.

Great Britain was very badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War, and 75 years ago people from the West Indies came over on the Empire Windrush to help us rebuild, bringing skills, honest work ethics and optimism in return for promises of support, citizenship and welcome.

People fear what they don’t understand. The dialogue around diversity and inclusion which we take for granted these days was not there. My grandparents were poor, and fearful that their low skilled, low paid jobs might be taken from them. They did not have the full story behind why people left behind their families and loved ones, often to find themselves ostracised, living in poverty and, more recently, being denied citizenship and risking deportation. The Windrush Generation were invited to our country as valued members of our society, but so many who already lived here simply did not realise that.

The service at Southwark Cathedral brought together many church leaders, including the Most Reverend Howard Gregory, Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies, and the Right Reverend Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, who both gave introductory speeches. Amongst the congregation were members of the extended Royal Family, and various government dignitaries. By far the most moving sight was of local people, dressed in a vast array of colours and styles, smiling, greeting friends they hadn’t seen for a while, and local schoolchildren helping people to their seats. The sense of community was extraordinary.

We heard testimonies from Christians who had been turned away from the church because of the colour of their skin, of people who had found a home in the Pentecostal church. We took time to remember those who had never felt welcome and equality, but we also heard inspiring and uplifting stories of community, progress, and love. We were blessed with the beautiful voices of the Kudos Gospel Choir and Sharlene Monique, sharing messages of hope which rang out to the vaulted heights of the Cathedral.

Above all, we lifted our voices as one in prayer for the future, Christian and Pagan sitting next to each other. I sang as loudly as any the final hymn, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer”. I didn’t sing for my own faith. I sang for the faith of the community around me who stand together for fairness justice and equality, I sang for their sacrifice and to honour their story.

Except, it’s not just their story, but part of the story of modern Britain, of which we are all a part. I feel honoured and humbled to have been able to share in this beautiful event, and to have learned so much more about the very real and recent history of my country, and also my own family as a result. I hope that sharing my sense of connection will help others to see how we are all connected, and how important all our stories are, so that in the future we will not have to commemorate events which have led to injustice but instead celebrate everyone’s contribution to the rich fabric of British culture.

Krissy Elliott
Chaplaincy Officer