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What is Windrush Day and why do we celebrate it?

Monday 22 June 2021 marks the fourth national celebration of Windrush Day and 73 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex.

The ship carried the first Caribbean migrants to the UK to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War.

What is Windrush Day?

Why do we celebrate Windrush Day?

First officially recognised as a day of celebration in 2017, Windrush Day takes place on 22 June each year to mark the anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948.

According to records, the ship was carrying 1,027 passengers, 802 of whom gave their last country of residence as somewhere in the Caribbean; additional documented countries of residence are India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa.

On this day we recognise and thank all those who arrived on Empire Windrush (known as the Windrush Generation), and their descendants, for the enormous contributions they made to Britain during its recovery from the Second World War and have continued to make ever since.

Why do we honour Windrush Day?

The legacy of the Windrush Generation

Windrush Day highlights the amazing legacy of the Windrush Generation to British society.

Following the Second World War, the UK was in urgent need of repair. The Windrush Generation came over, largely from the Caribbean, to undertake a variety of jobs with the purpose of rebuilding the nation.

These jobs included the production of steel, coal, iron, and food, as well as roles in running public transport and staffing the National Health Service (NHS).

Windrush Day also shines a light on how the Windrush Generation laid the foundations for the Black British society we know today.

The purpose of Windrush Day is to encourage communities across the country to celebrate these contributions made by the Windrush Generation, and their descendants, and thank all those involved for rebuilding this society.

While Windrush Day is a day of celebration, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the difficulties faced by the Windrush Generation – past and present.

Intolerance and the Windrush Scandal

What was the Windrush Scandal?

The Windrush immigrants to the UK were faced with intolerance from some of the British population. Although encouraged to settle and take up employment in the UK, many were denied access to this due to the colour of their skin.

In April 2018, the Windrush Scandal broke when it was discovered that, despite living and working in the UK for decades, many of the Windrush Generation had been told by the Government that they were in the country illegally due to a lack of official paperwork.

The Windrush Generation found themselves on the wrong side of immigration legislation because they couldn’t provide the paperwork to prove they had the right to stay in the UK, either because they’d never been given this or because the Government had destroyed their own copies of paperwork. Suddenly the onus was on individuals to ‘prove’ their right to stay.

Many people were wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights while they struggled to provide the information required by the Government. Some are still fighting for justice.

The Windrush scandal resulted in the Government apologising for the deportation threats.

How did Windrush Day become officially recognised?

When did Windrush Day first begin?

Patrick Vernon was the first to call for the commemoration of Windrush Day to recognise the contribution of the Windrush Generation to UK society on the day when the first big group of post-war migrants arrived – 22 June.

Vernon launched a petition for this in 2013, which was followed by a campaign in 2018 (at the height of the Windrush Scandal).

Official backing was given when the Government announced that ‘Windrush Day’ would be celebrated on 22 June each year, supported by a grant to recognise and honour the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants and to keep their legacy alive and celebrate the diversity of Britain's history.