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Remembering Windrush: HEE pledges support for colleagues

22 June 2020

Today, 22 June, marks Windrush Day, honouring the contribution of Britain’s Caribbean community and remembering the half a million citizens who travelled here to live and work after World War Two, answering the country’s call to help rebuild the nation.

For many of Health Education England’s staff, the day evokes powerful family recollections. But after it emerged many of the Windrush Generation were wrongly detained, deported and denied their legal rights, the scandal is far from being history.

Against this background, HEE’s BAME Network Chairs – Deborah McIntosh and Liz Aston-Gregg for BAME London and Mohammed Arsalan and Ella Webster for Midlands and East of England BAME Network – have pledged their support for colleagues affected by the repercussions.

 They state: “It's easy to forget how the Windrush scandal continues to have a profound effect on black people and our colleagues to this day. The emotional trauma suffered by our black people as a result will endure for many years to come, while members of our network have experienced the fear of having family ripped away from them.

“As Chairs of BAME networks we want to recognise this injustice and remind ourselves of not only this, but the many struggles that we continue to face in our black community. We will continue to support colleagues through this.”

The BAME Staff Network was established by, and exists for, BAME colleagues across Health Education England. It aims to represent the collective voice for BAME staff and help advance their interests at HEE.

Professor Wendy Reid, acting Chief Executive, Health Education England, said: “The work of our BAME Network has helped to change my own perceptions, and I appreciate all their efforts to challenge inequality.

“While we have made some strides in terms of providing a level playing field for all, we must – and will – do more.”

Gillian King is one member of staff remembering her family history fondly today. The is project officer in the nursing, midwifery and AHP London team recalls:

"My mum and dad met in the Woolworths in Wandsworth in 1963. They were introduced through a mutual friend from Jamaica and it would have been rude to ignore someone from your parish who knew your parents.

"They dated and had one child, my elder sister. As a precocious child I once asked them individually what their best date was. Each responded, 'the Ray Charles concert!' They married a few years later at Wandsworth Town Hall and had a party to celebrate.

"My dad came over to London as a welder, and my mum was looking for work as she had found this difficult in Jamaica, plus she wanted to join her father who had already been working in the UK for a couple of years.

"My parents lived in several flats with my elder sister and brother and found that living in shared accommodation was not ideal with two young children, with another on the way. To solve this, they tried to get a mortgage for the flat they were living in (I think this was around 1968 or 1969) but were unable to.

“It was difficult to obtain a mortgage at the time. However, during this period, the government began a programme of rehousing people from the cities, and my parents were able to get a council house in Basingstoke, where my dad was able to get a job as well.

"My parents’ move provided them with a house, good schools and space for their now four children. My mum joined the NHS around 1970 as a psychiatric nurse assistant, working nights. This allowed my parents to develop a routine where one of them was always with their kids.

"My parents always spoke about their lives in Jamaica and growing up there; the routines of feeding the pigs or goats, the washing clothes at the river and the abundance of crayfish!

"They also told us their reasons for coming to England. We found this hard to digest, as life for black people in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s was full of racism, which we as children had not yet learnt to manage. They also spoke about wanting to go back home because they missed it and they encouraged us to get a good education in England.

"In the 1980s my parents started their own commercial cleaning business, which they managed for about 30 years. My sister and brothers have all completed degrees and my parents have moved back to Jamaica, where they are loving their life in the sun."