Blog: Celebrating the women of the Windrush generation

Last updated on 25 Oct 2023

A blog by Nzinga Cotton, Communications Manager at the HRA, in honour of this year's theme for Black History Month, 'Saluting our Sisters'.

Nzinga Cotton

Nzinga Cotton, HRA Communications Manager

In honour of this year’s theme for Black History Month, Saluting Our Sisters, I want to pay tribute to my grandmother, Daisy Cotton, and the women of the Windrush generation.

This year marks the 75 anniversary of the arrival of Empire Windrush in the UK. The ship carried more than 800 passengers from Caribbean countries and those passengers and the many other others who travelled to the UK until the early 1970s became known as the Windrush generation.

My grandmother was just 22 when she left St Kitts in 1953, the tiny Caribbean Island where my family are from, to travel to the UK by boat.

I often wonder what it would have been like at such a young age to leave your family behind and begin a new life in a country that was vastly different to the one she left and wasn’t always welcoming.

During this period many migrants made similar journeys like my grandmother from across the Commonwealth to the UK to help fill widespread labour shortages.

They came because the UK Government needed them, and they were pivotal in helping to rebuild the UK following the Second World War.

Many of them took up menial roles such as cleaners, cooks, porters, factory labourers, and transport staff and made a vital contribution to everyday life in the UK and have continued to do so ever since.

My grandmother worked as a seamstress. She raised my mother, aunts and uncles, largely alone, in Hackney, in east London.

Daisy was a formidable woman and had a deep love and affection for her adopted country, despite the challenges she faced.

Some of my earliest childhood memories include spending time with her. Her fierceness, courage and bravery has been a huge inspiration to me throughout my life.

I think this is why I also feel a deep connection to the other women of the Windrush generation, especially who those who joined the NHS and helped make it the national treasure it is today.

Their lives were not easy. They faced racism and discrimination on a scale that is hard for us to understand and comprehend today.

Due to sexism, many of these women also took on more than their fair share of caring responsibilities for their children, whilst maintaining demanding and difficult jobs.

I’m in awe of these women and the sacrifices they made and the barriers they overcame, which has made it easier for someone like me to live my life more fully.

As the women of the Windrush generation reach the end of their lives we are in danger of losing their stories and forgetting their vital contribution.

My grandmother never returned to St Kitts. She passed away in 2008 and I deeply regret not asking her more questions about her life as a new arrival in this country.

She bore witness to a vital part of our social and cultural history. We must recognise and celebrate these pioneering Black women and the difference they made.

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