Portsmouth exhibition takes a look at city's Windrush generation

More than 60 years ago, almost half a million people began travelling overseas to come and live in the UK, answering the call to help the country get back on its feet in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Friday, 7th June 2019, 4:33 pm
Updated Friday, 14th June 2019, 6:13 pm
The Empire Windrush arrives in Tilbury Docks on June 22, 1948. Picture: PA Wire

Travelling on the Empire Windrush, most of the Caribbean immigrants went to London, but others spread out across the country – with a number of them making the journey down to Portsmouth.

Coming in their thousands, many found themselves working in the dockyard or joining the Royal Navy, but essentially worked wherever they were needed.

Sadly, at the time a lot of them weren’t made to feel welcome, facing racial hatred and persecution on a daily basis.

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From left, Lele Jones, Ayu Kifle, Liz Collins, Honorine MacDonald and Marie Costa from The African Womens Forum. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (150830-9)

But still they persevered, going on to bring up families in their adopted home.

Now, an exhibition is being launched in the city to explore some of the stories of the men and women who moved to Portsmouth to start a new life.

The exhibition, called The Windrush Generation, is the brainchild of Marie Costa, chair of the African Women’s Forum.

She explains: ‘The origins of the exhibition came from us wanting to commemorate all the people who came from the Caribbean as part of the Windrush generation – they were asked to come here after the Second World War to help rebuild Britain.

Leading the Caribbean Island Association’s float, the Merry Black Widow, around the streets of Southsea is 32-year-old Camille Jacobs, complete with a web, and Mascot Amiah in 1994

‘Many of them came to work in the dockyard.

‘But the city was desperately short of manpower so people were needed to do jobs like driving the buses and so on.

‘A lot of them have now sadly died of old age, just like the war veterans before them, but they survived through their partners and children.’

The exhibition, opening at Portsmouth Central Library on June 17, concentrates on the stories of a small sample of those who emigrated to the UK, and their plight while living in the area.

Marie says: ‘It focuses on certain people who we’ve got a lot of information on, featuring what they did and how life was for them.

‘The numbers were small in Portsmouth compared with some other parts of the UK but I think it’s important to tell their stories and celebrate what they brought with them, but also look at the issues they faced.

‘I remember one person telling me a story of how a bus driver would not take money from them because he wouldn’t accept cash from a black person’s hands.

‘That’s the sort of story that I really found shocking, but we have to tell these stories so that people don’t forget about them.

‘This sort of thing would be so hurtful for them but they kept their heads down and kept on living their lives.’

One of the main things that was brought across during this era was the Caribbean culture.

Marie recalls the constant positivity that she saw in these communities – a love for life that was seldom missing from their day-to-day lives, even in the face of adversity.

This was reflected outwardly for the rest of the city to see, and no more so than at the Lord Mayor's annual carnival.

She says: ‘The best thing they brought to the city was a joy about life.

‘It was this group of immigrants, bringing their love of life – and love of music – that really showed the rest of Portsmouth what they were about.

‘I remember being at the Lord Mayor’s carnival and you would always look forward to seeing the Caribbean float – it would run from Commercial Road towards the seafront.

‘It always had the best music and you could tell everyone was having a great time.’

But beneath that joyous exterior lay the troubles of being subjected to racial hatred, name-calling and more, something which Marie believes still exists to this day.

Just last year, the Windrush scandal saw 83 people wrongly deported by the Home Office.

Many more were either detained or threatened with deportation.

Marie says: ‘Even today people who came over to help rebuild the country are being deported.

'For some of them this is because they came over as children, so didn't have their own passport.

‘They have lived and worked here all their lives, so I just cannot understand it.

‘It's shocking that people are still facing adversity, even after 50 or 60 years here in the UK.’

Marie herself came over to the UK in the 1960s, and has worked hard to get Portsmouth residents and the Windrush generation to love one another.

With the launch of this exhibition imminent, she is not only looking back at some of the stories that will feature, but also wants to examine the bigger city picture in the near future.

She said: ‘This exhibition is a great way to explore how people who came as part of the Windrush generation in Portsmouth lived their lives.

‘It’s amazing to think about how for decades these people have been penalised and carried on regardless. They lived happily despite the hardship and I think that’s rather inspirational.

‘One day I want to tell the full story of the hardship faced by the Windrush generation; the problems that they faced and how hard it was for them to go about with their daily lives.’

With the exhibition opening on Monday, Marie hopes people in Portsmouth will take the time to learn about their Windrush neighbours.

She says: ‘It is crucial that we remember this part of our history’.

The exhibition is at Portsmouth Central Library, Guildhall Square, for a month.