Caribbean tea party celebrates legacy of the Windrush generation
PUBLISHED: 11:46 26 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:31 27 June 2019
Hackney's Caribbean Elderly Organisation stole the show at a tea party celebrating the Windrush generation at Stoke Newington town hall on Saturday.
The celebrations marked Britain's first official Windrush day, held on the anniversary of the ship docking in Tilbury 71 years ago.
Paying tribute to the men and women who arrived from the Caribbean to work in Britain between 1948 and 1971, the group performed a reading of Mercy's Letter - an original production members put together with a theatre company as a means of telling their own stories.
Caribbean music and poetry graced the building throughout the day as generations of Windrushers, family and friends ate, sang and danced to celebrate an essential part of British and Hackney history. Tea, coffee and rum punch was served, along with finger foods like sweet potato pudding, sweet bread and salt fish on long tables facing Caribbean flags.
Seven women from the Elderly Organisation stood on stage and told the story of "Mercy" - a character they created with Immediate Theatre's Exchange Project. Her letters are based on their experiences arriving and living in the UK. The letters are addressed to the family they left behind when they set off to England.
"Uncle Jim and Aunty Beatrice met me at Waterloo Station and we came to Dalston on a double decker bus number 76," read one woman. "The trees look like they are dead but they say the leaves grow back in spring. Arriving wasn't nice - I cried and cried and cried. I was a mess but I'm going to be alright."
The readings were injected with bursts of Calypso music from Ngozi Fulani.
Such stories are an important way to teach people about the Windrush legacy and scandal - which saw thousands of people denied rights and documentation by the Home Office's "hostile environment" policies.
Funds distributed by the Windrush day advisory panel are being used to support events and activities like the tea party and an inter-generational baking day with bake-off contestant Liam Charles.
The Elderly Organisation is grappling with a cut to its funding and has been appealing for donations so it can continue to provide services and activites.
Hackney was among the first councils in Britain to demonstrate its support for the Windrush generation in the wake of last year's scandal, which prompted the resignation of then home secretary Amber Rudd. Hackney held a Windrush tea party last year, before a day was recognised nationally, and has just appointed Cllr Carole Williams as the UK's first council cabinet member with a specific Windrush brief.
Deputy mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble told the Gazette: "Part of the celebration is to honour and acknowledge but [also] to tell the story of a generation of people that were invited to a country to build a country [and] when they got here they were not welcomed.
"They didn't complain - they just stayed and worked hard to develop a wonderful country. They should be commended for that.
Cllr Williams, who tabled the first council motion calling for better support for victims of the Windrush scandal, wore an antique military outfit to pay tribute to Caribbeans who fought in the Second World War.
Her work, however, focuses on the present. She doesn't think two years is enough time to find out about the new compensation scheme launched in April by the Home Office - or to make a claim.
The government has not campaigned to ensure Windrushers and their descendants are aware of the scheme.
Anyone affected can make a claim including family members and those with a criminal record.
"They're already British citizens so why should their right to citizenship be taken away because there have been changes to immigration policy?" Cllr Williams said.
Meanwhile, the Real Selfie project collected stories and snapshots of guests with a 1970s photobooth for the Hackney Archives and each party-goer on the day took home a cookbook from the the inter-generational baking activity.