22 June 2023 sees the 75th anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush arriving in the UK, with over 800 men and women from the Caribbean responding to Britain's call for more workers. This moment will be marked by events across the country – including the From War to Windrush 75 symposium at IWM.
But what does the Windrush mean to the public today? And will the 75th anniversary matter in 2023?
The Windrush has come to symbolise the post-war Commonwealth migration to Britain that has shaped the multi-ethnic society we share today. In recent years the Windrush also leant its name to a scandal, in which thousands of people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth, most of them having lived most of their lives in the UK, were denied their rights. Many are still waiting for compensation.
Think tank British Future has been researching public attitudes to the Windrush and to broader questions about race and diversity, in the lead-up to the 75th anniversary, through nationally-representative surveys by Focaldata and a series of face-to-face discussion groups. The full report is available to download on the British Future website.
Thanks to the support of Spirit of 2012 and the Phoenix Group we were able to poll boosted samples of ethnic minority Britons and a large sample of people from the Black Caribbean community, to understand the opinions of these key audiences. The research offers a ‘state of the nation’ picture of where Britain is today on race. It looks at how we understand this aspect of our shared history and also people’s hopes and fears for the future.
We were also able to look in more depth at how to talk about Windrush 75 with different audiences, and at the kinds of Windrush anniversary events that people would like to attend. These findings have been incorporated into a toolkit that can be downloaded from the Windrush 75 website to help stakeholders in their communications and events planning.
The anniversary comes at a time when our public and political debate about issues of migration, race and history can sometimes be angry and polarised.
Our research finds that most of the public, however – of all backgrounds – recognise that this is an important moment in British history. They also strongly feel that it is something that all of our children should learn about at school. To help with this we have partnered with educational charity The Linking Network to produce a series of resources and guidance for teachers to help introduce the Windrush story in classrooms and assemblies, available to download for free from the Linking Network website.
One of its suggestions is that schools invite Windrush generation elders into classrooms to share their stories, with guidance on how to do this. A video shows the results of a wonderful day I spent in Bradford at three different schools – a primary, a secondary and a sixth form college – accompanying Windrush generation elders who were interviewed by the students about their experiences of coming to the UK in the 1950s and 60s. For many of the students, these personal stories really brought the Windrush anniversary to life.
Windrush 75 is an opportunity to deepen the public conversation about the past, present and future of Britain.
The Windrush story carries particular meaning to the UK’s Black Caribbean community, of course. But it is also part of Britain’s wider story too, helping to explain who we, the British people, are today. So the anniversary in June can be a moment to bring different communities together to celebrate our shared history. Everyone is invited to the party.
Windrush 75 is an opportunity to deepen the public conversation about the past, present and future of Britain. It is a chance for every sphere of British society – from heritage and culture, health and sport, government both national and local – to reflect on how we have changed and where we want to go.