This year’s 75th anniversary of the Windrush, the ship that brought hundreds of immigrants from the Caribbean to the UK, should be a “diamond jubilee for modern, diverse Britain”, say campaigners.
Actor Sir Lenny Henry, Tristram Hunt, the head of the V&A, and Kwame Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of the Young Vic, are among representatives of the arts, sport, business and faith to call for the anniversary to be marked with national celebrations.
Windrush Day on 22 June was introduced by the government in 2018 to encourage “communities across the country to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants”. The move came a year after the Guardian began to uncover how hundreds of people who came to work in the UK had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.
This year will be a “special year for Britain, a year of identity”, said Sunder Katwala, the director of the thinktank British Future. “A coronation year that ushers in a new era. One when we mark 75 years of pride in the NHS, and 75 years of Windrush, the moment which symbolises the postwar migration that has shaped our society today.”
Special events and programmes are being planned to mark the 75th anniversary. The V&A will host a season of displays, talks, workshops and events telling “rich, layered stories about the Windrush generation and their legacies through objects from the V&A Collection and beyond, showcasing artists and designers associated with Windrush and exploring the impact of the Caribbean presence on art, design and culture in Britain”, said Hunt.
Tony Butler, the executive director of Derby Museums, said: “In 2023, museums up and down the country from London to Leeds, Preston to Reading, will be hosting events and exhibitions commemorating the Windrush legacy.
“Museums are civic spaces where stories are told. More often than not this is done by way of objects and art. Many of those people who made that journey 75 years ago did not bring objects with them. Over the years, as places of memory, museums and community heritage organisations across the UK have collected oral histories and memories to share their stories with the public.”
Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, said the anniversary was “a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the work of our black and other ethnic minority colleagues and their significant contributions to the National Health Service, which is also marking its 75th year”.
She added: “From 1948 to today, the NHS has always welcomed talent from around the world. Many of the new arrivals’ contributions to the health service helped to create a new and free health care system for all. They were critical to the formation of the NHS, and I am honoured to work alongside their descendants and generations that followed in their footsteps.”
Henry’s one-man play, August in England, about the injustices of the Windrush scandal, will be staged at the Bush theatre in west London, and he has also written a six-part drama, Three Little Birds, that will air on ITV this year.
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“It’s vital this year to celebrate the courage of those Windrush pioneers 75 years ago, who gave up the life they knew to seek a better one here in Britain. They paved the way for those of us who have followed,” he said.
Kwei-Armah said: “The Windrush embodies so many human stories – of dreams for the future, injustice and adversity, identity and belonging – which have spanned generations over the past 75 years. It’s a powerful symbol that will inspire culture-makers throughout 2023.”
A poll carried out for the Windrush 75 network found that six in 10 people agree that “Britain owes a great deal to the Windrush generation of migrants and should recognise their contribution as part of our national story”.
The same proportion want “the shared history of a multi-ethnic Britain” to be taught in schools.