Royal Pharmaceutical Society

“More than a ship”: What the ‘legacy’ of Windrush Day means to me

By Natasha Callender, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow

Today, June 22, marks Windrush Day.

How it shaped me

Honouring the contribution of Caribbean migrants called to support with rebuilding post war Britain, Windrush represents more than a ship. It represents a generation of British citizens, including my maternal grandparents, arriving in large numbers from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971.

My grandfather arrived in UK in 1954 from Barbados, and my grandmother arrived two years later. Their reasons for migrating went beyond searching for a better life for themselves and their family, but a desire to assist and support the ‘Mother Country’.

The British government invited “fine young West Indians” to work in the newly established NHS, with a call for nurses, midwifes, ancillary workers, cleaners, cooks, and porters, as well as factory labourers or employed in the bus, underground, and rail service.

Racial inequalities

The arrival of British citizens from what was then considered Imperial Britain prior to Barbados seeking independence in 1966 was not welcomed by all. My grandparents experienced racism in all of its forms; from systemic inequalities, such as refusal of rented properties in predominantly white British areas, to my grandmother’s employer choosing to call her ‘Becky’ instead of her actual name, Ermie, as they said it was too difficult to pronounce.

My grandparents established tightly knit communities with others who had emigrated from Jamaica, Trinidad, St Lucia, and some of the other Caribbean networks. The paradox of racism was that at any given moment they were celebrated for their service to the ‘Mother Country’, but only for a limited time. During their final years in the UK, in the 1980s, the level of racism they experienced was similar to when they arrived. Still, they persevered and supported my aunt’s ambitions to become a nurse, and my ambition to become a pharmacist, before returning to Barbados later that decade.

The history on the emigration of pharmacy professionals from the Windrush period is not well articulated. The most eminent Caribbean healthcare professional whose father was a pharmacist was Harold Moody, who emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he campaigned against racial prejudice and established the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931.

Persistence, prejudice and purpose

Currently, less than 0.5 per cent of registered pharmacists are from black British/Caribbean heritage, and only 1 per cent of pharmacy technicians – but they each have their own stories from their grandparents and parents of persistence, prejudice and purpose.

The Caribbean is one part of the African diaspora, and in more recent years migration of pharmacy professionals from the African continent, in particular Ghana and Nigeria, has continued. 6 per cent of pharmacists, and 2 per cent of pharmacy technicians, are Black African, including those who largely emigrated in the 1970s to 1990s whose experiences are similar but also uniquely different.

With that said, the Windrush generation helped to build the National Health Service, and I am here today because of their sacrifice, commitment, hard work and perseverance.

I, like many others from the Windrush generation, am part of the legacy. 

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.

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