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Geriau Windrush Words

The aim of this project is to provide a resource for others recognising and celebrating the achievements of people with Caribbean heritage, people from the 'Windrush Generation', with poets and writers in Wales to bring together examples of the Windrush stories and challenges to support the annual recognition of Windrush Day on 22nd June. 

22 June 2021 will mark the fourth UK National Windrush Day and 73 years since the SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex in 1948 carrying the first Caribbean migrants to the UK to help re-build Britain after the Second World War.

This year so many things have proved challenging and we are not alone in not being able to follow up all our ideas, but this introduction shares our progress, and the steps we will take to develop this further in the future. 

Poets and writers find ways to that speak to issues, to reflect, to challenge and to heal. Poetry is fundamental to every culture and we know that poetry resonates over time. Historians research history over time, writers tell of the lived experience or explore how to tell this to engage and inform readers, and musicians put poetry on tracks to get the message over.

The experience of people who came to Britain from the Caribbean and other parts of the British Empire, after World War II, and those who came in the years after that, as well as the their children born in Britain, was tough.  Many made the best of it, but for others subjected to ongoing overt racism it was far from easy: working 2 or 3 jobs, denied basic rights and yet they still brought up their families, set up churches and sent money back home. 

However once we started recruiting poets and writers interested in taking part in the project, we realised that we had to also meeted to provide background information and resources. 

This website is under development as we add more resources ....

Learning Links International explores and tells the stories of our shared histories with research and consultation, bringing communities from around the world together.

This project is supported by the Welsh Government for writers and poets in Wales to create a resource of poetry and writing, teling the stories of those called the 'Windrush Generation' to develop an online resource to support the recognition of 'Windrush Day' every year.  

By telling the stories of people living in Wales, who came from the Caribbean to help Britian rebuild after the devastation and loss of life caused by World War II, is a way to ensure that this contribution is understood and valued. The perspectives of their children and grandchildren are also important and should have space to be told. The stories of those left behind are important as well and all these stories need a sensitivlty and care in exploring. 

We have also included some classics in Jamaican poetry to share the way others have told the Windrush Stories. 

For the past 5 years the Learning Links International have worked to build bridges and develop the relationship between Wales and the Caribbean islands that are the countries of heritage of many Welsh people now settled in Wales - our first steps are to develop links we have with Jamaica through the Jamaica Wales Aliance and working with the North Wales Jamaica Society.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund supported the 'Cymru Windrush Elders' to enable them to record and share their stories, however, “Windrush Words” comes from a different angle, engaging Welsh and Jamaican poets, including Ifor ap Glyn the National Poet of Wales and Jamaican Dub Poet, Yasus Afari, as well as writers and musicians to tell the Windrush story. This will start to create poetry and reggae tracks to be used in future on occasions when the people all across Wales pause to remember all that our country owes to others for their hard work and the willing offers to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War.

We will also explore ways using poetry, music and writing to include recognition of the Black Servicemen and Sailors in both WW1 and WW2, and to remember and recognise the lives taken in creating the vast wealth generated for the landed gentry of Wales and England by enslaved Africans: the generation upon generation of Black Africans toiling on plantations on the Caribbean islands producing sugar and other commodities, wearing cloth woven in Wales and England and working in sugar boiling houses using huge copper vessels produced in Swansea.

Since times gone by poets have told hard to tell stories and this will be an opportunity to develop our ideas to bring poets from Wales and the Caribbean together to reflect and tell these stories for use in future events and in school studies. Learning Links International has already had an opportunity and support from Arts Council Wales to explore the links between Jamaican and Welsh poetry and the Eisteddfod. This very successful project was led by Jamaican Dub Poet, Yasus Afari, and supported by Ifor ap Glyn, the National Poet of Wales, and other Welsh poets including Rhys Trimble. Rhys was also invited by Yasus Afari to perform in Jamaica. The Windrush Words initiative will include poets working with the Windrush Generation individuals living in Wales to create poetry together, recognising that some of the Windrush Generation will be poets.

Poetry can also bring peace to the soul. Repair and consolation for loss is the most sensitive challenge when working with people from the Windrush Generation. Individuals descended from generations of African people forced into chattel slavery, who then rose to be leaders of their island countries fighting alongside other Commonwealth troops in both WW1 and WW2, then they offered to leave families and friends at home to respond to calls to help rebuild the Mother Country and look for a better life overseas.

Writers give us ways to understand the stories, exploring the political landscapes of the time and give us the big picture.  

Over the centuries, many Welsh people left their families and friends behind, or took them with them, to live in other people’s countries around the world desperate to find a better life. There is a resonance to explore.

Music takes the words to another dimension and in Wales reggae has its own Welsh take. Jamaican Dub poetry puts the words on “reggae tracks”. We plan to use the music to create a “Windrush Words” CD or DVD, including mixing Welsh classics with Caribbean favourites and plantation songs sung by Welsh choirs and Welsh and Jamaican school children. Music will add an extra dimension, the words will be written by a range of people, and the tracks will be produced by experienced reggae enthusiasts and young musicians from Wales and Jamaica.

We are exploring possibilities to work with the Penrhyn Choir, and will seek additional funding to support this and one suggestion from our ‘Jamaica Wales Alliance’ Co-ordinator in Jamaica, Jonathan Greenland, is to film Jamaicans singing the lines of “Calon Lan” to be included in a filmed rendition to be put on YouTube or on a DVD or used with other tracks on a CD.

Yasus Afari has toured in Wales for over 10 years when visiting the UK, to explore Wales and understand our heart. He has performed in café’s, schools and theatres, telling the story of his country through poetry and mostly this has been done on a voluntary basis to help our organisation connect with communities. He is willing to do this again to support this project , but has to have his expenses covered.

Ifor ap Glyn National Poet of Wales gives his support and wishes us luck with this project. As previously stated, Ifor and Yasus worked very successfully together on our last Arts Council project 'JAMRY' and wanted further opportunities as poets to work together again. This will enable this to happen.

We are also exploring ways to find interesting settings to tell these stories using poetry and music. For example: planning the revival* of “Bittersweet Tea Parties” across Wales whenever we can, at National Trust properties and gardens, in tea rooms and community centres, as well as in the Senedd and other venues, to remember the introduction of sugar, tea and coffee and other products that we now find indispensable, and at the same time to remember the descendants of the enslaved Africans, the “Windrush Generation”:

*Bittersweet Tea Parties were held in gardens all over Wales in 2007 to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the TransAtlantic Slave Act, they were organised by Bettina Harden and funded by the HLF. These were a great success and Bettina Harden would be delighted to support the use of the idea again.

Gateway Gardens Trust Chairman, Bettina Harden says “By approaching slavery in this way, we came up with a project that engaged the imagination of hundreds of people and enabled properties all over Wales to take part.

As someone said to me when I described Bittersweet, it is so important that projects on slavery continue after 2007 so that this history and its modern-day legacy aren’t just put back on the shelf for another hundred years.”

 http://history.research.southwales.ac.uk/news/en/2009/oct/27/bittersweet-marking-black-history-month/

The exhibition was opened at the Senedd on 21 October 2009 by Lord Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly. However all the resources created have now disappeared.

Before Covid we had been exploring ways to revive “Bittersweet Tea Parties” - possibly working with the National Trust, recognising that Tea Parties are manageable, not too expensive and suit older people. Tea Parties are a perfect setting for poetry, as well as being enjoyed by all ages.

This is a way to pick this up and recognise all the work done to research and tell the stories of “this history and its modern-day legacy” by the Black Voluntary Sector Network, Race Council Cymru, Learning Links International and many other organisations working to develop Black History Month recognition across Wales, and now Black History Cymru 365, which is a successful approach only found in Wales. 

At the start of this introduction - we recognise that we have not been able to follow up all these ideas yet, but we are making a start. 

Background

The idea is for this project to prepare poetry, music and activities to use in future. These will put Windrush Day in context and to explain why it has been established to promote awareness of the Historical, Economic and Cultural contribution of the Windrush generation and to recognise the racism they faced and challenge racism today. For example: using appropriate reggae tracks at football matches. We work with Macka B who has performed at our Black History Month events in Bethesda for the past two years and who has recently produced a track for use with the “Lets Kick Racism Out of Football” initiative.

Windrush Day was launched in 2018 to recognise the 70 year anniversary of the arrival of SS Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks carrying men and women from the Caribbean who came with a willingness to work in Britain to help to rebuild their Motherland. These men and women left their homes to find work to support the families they had to leave behind, as the legacy of the colonialization and the contribution made by the islanders to the war effort had left their economies struggling and work was difficult to find.

The positive message is that these remarkable men and women, many now settled in Wales, are decedents of those Africans enslaved and transported to work in chattel slavery on British Caribbean island plantations owned by Welsh, English and Scottish plantation owners. They came to the Britain as British Citizens, as members of the British Empire, with British passports. They were given indefinite leave to stay. They faced racism and discrimination when they landed in Tilbury. They found work easily, post war Britain was in need of men to take on work in public transport and factories, as women who had worked in the war years were expected to go back into their homes. In later years husbands, wives and children flew in to Heathrow to join them.

Campaigns to challenge racism and hate crime have tried to address the issues over the years, but Black people living in the UK still face challenges, and noticeably more recently since Brexit. The British Government recent shameful ‘hostile environment’ has caused further dreadful pain and concern to Black people with Caribbean Heritage, as well as many others. But the people who came over from the Caribbean on the Empire Windrush and around that time, were the focus of serious discrimination, and still the compensation and other claims linger on.

Sadly, many of those who came over in 1948 or shortly after, as well as elders like Mrs Betty Campbell who were born here in Wales, are now very elderly or have passed on, so we have a significant legacy to respect, involving their families and communities.

So, a renewed effort is needed as this work is significant as it will offer comfort and recognition to the Caribbean and mixed race communities in Wales in future years.

Poets have been researching and telling the stories explaining what Windrush and Windrush Day means and will link with those who are working in schools, to plan ways to help children to recognise how fortunate we are in Wales and what we owe to those in other countries whose men, women and children who came here to support us, but yet they faced discrimination and racist abuse, to give an understanding to help schools tackle racism.

The poetry presents positive messages, recognising the immense achievements of those now called the Windrush Generation.

The “Windrush Words” project also provides the platform to promote awareness of the historical context and the stories of the men and women who are the Windrush Generation. The very significant economic contribution of the Windrush Generation in Wales is being recognised through this research and the amazing cultural contribution made by people of Caribbean heritage in Wales.

Although a small initiative, this will open the doors for Schools and Universities to engage in a special way to use poetry and music, to explore this legacy of the stories and find the best ways to share them. 

Learning Links International is grateful to be given the opportunity to take the ideas we suggested forward, as we said in our Windrush Day funding application “this should not be rushed and should be done on a national basis, not just in South Wales. The Windrush Generation, like the inspirational Mrs Betty Campbell, will not only be remembered but her mission will be kept alive through poetry and music, telling the story as she would have wanted.”

We are taking time in developing the 'Windrush Writers Network' to engage with poets and writers to start using the results of our efforts with a pilot event in June 2021.

Then we will discuss how best to links schools and communities across the Atlantic, involving the High Commissions and Embassies, building on examples of successful links* already developed eg between Bangor City Council and Clarendon Corporation in Jamaica, through the ‘Jamaica Wales Alliance’ initiative and our next project ‘Caribbean Connections’ to ensure that our approach is inclusive.

*Links is our preferred term for what was previously called ‘twinning’. Links are more flexible, but potentially stronger, and are not necessarily led by Councils and they support the creative ideas of individuals and communities to be recognised and replicated.

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