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Marking Windrush Day: Diane Smith remembers

24 June 2019

HEE manager Diane Smith is marking Windrush Day (June 22) by sharing fond memories of her Jamaican-British upbringing.

Diane, Regional Stakeholder Manager for London, says her young life was shaped by her parents’ experiences as part of the Windrush generation.

“My father, Alvin, arrived in Britain in 1958 from Jamaica,” Diane recalls. “He was 19 when he boarded a ship in Kingston, headed for Southampton. His first thoughts on arrival were: ‘If I can handle the weather, life overseas could be good.’”

Alvin spent his first weeks in Birmingham, then joined his sister in Huddersfield, which is where Diane was raised. He quickly settled into British life and found work in a textile mill, running the machines. He stayed with the same employer for next twenty years, rising in rank.  

“Two years later, my mother, Viola, landed at Heathrow Airport and they lived together, renting a room in a shared house,” Diane says.  “I remember her eyes lighting up as she retold stories of living in ‘tenanted accommodation’.  After marrying they bought their first house and my brother and I came along a little later. My parents also rented out rooms, so the house was always full of people. There was always lots of laughter, music playing and good home cooking going on.”

Diane says her parents bought their home through a scheme called ‘Pardoner’, a euphemism for ‘Partner’. Members put in a certain weekly cash amount and each person was allocated a draw of the total sum deposited by everyone. Many people from the Caribbean used this method to acquire deposits for house purchases, because banks were not favourable to giving mortgages without them having sizeable deposits. 

“Through such schemes and others, the Jamaican community quickly drew strength from each other and kept the culture of ‘home’, alive in Britain,” Diane explains. “These included cultural events, financial and administrative support, as well as hosting house parties. As a small child I loved attending the parties, because this is where I would catch up with cousins and play until the early hours.“

She sums up: “My parents are very proud of their achievements in the UK and despite the challenges and harshness - incidentally not racism, or ‘colour bar’, but the cold weather and lack of sun -they felt very privilege to be afforded the opportunity to live and work in the UK. 

“They returned to live in Jamaica in 2001 and my father died in 2003. Their intention was to return much sooner, but at least he lived in the sun for the last eighteen months of his life.”

Diane concludes:  “For me, Jamaica is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The country’s motto ‘Out of many one people’, describes beautifully, the combinations of different ethnicities of Jamaican people. The lush natural landscape and incredible beaches are like no other and the people are always welcoming. I visit as often as I can.”