By Becca Arlington
Author of Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation came to Brunel University and was interviewed by Booker Prize Winner.
Professor of Creative Writing and joint Booker Prize winner of 2019, Bernardine Evaristo is currently hosting The Brunel Writers Series at the university. This series of five events sees successful and established writers being interviewed each week. Students and attendants also have the opportunity to ask them questions, listen to live readings and watch screenings of their work.
On Wednesday 12th February, the writer being interviewed by Evaristo, was author, historian, and radio producer, Colin Grant. He spoke about writing non-fiction stories and he had an engaged audience. His most recent book, Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation, was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. Grant himself is the son of two members of the Windrush Generation, and he spoke passionately about the book’s subject matter. He carried out over a hundred first-hand interviews with those who came to Britain from the West Indies, between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. His book highlights a crucial and often misunderstood chapter of British history.
The Windrush generation was named for the ship, MV Empire Windrush, which brought the first group to the UK. They were encouraged to emigrate in order to fill post-war labour shortages after the Second World War. It is unknown how many people are from the Windrush generation, as many children travelled on their parents’ passports, but there are thought to be thousands.
As they came from British colonies that had not yet achieved independence, the Windrush generation believed they were British citizens. However, in 2018, some of the children who arrived in the UK with their parents were told that they lived here illegally. Most of these people had been living and working in the UK for decades, but a lack of official paperwork meant they were being asked to leave.
In 1971, the Windrush generation was told that they could stay in the UK permanently, but the Government did not keep a full record of them. In 2012, there was a change in immigration law. This led to some members of the Windrush generation, who had never applied for official paperwork, being held in immigration detention centres and facing deportation. Some were denied benefits and medical care, lost their jobs and homes, and were refused re-entry into the UK.
One of Grant’s interviewees, 91-year-old Joyce Trotman said: “First we were children of the empire, then citizens of the Commonwealth, and now foreigners and immigrants.”
In 2018, the Home Secretary announced that those who had been detained or deported would receive a formal apology from the Government. The individuals who had been forced to leave the country would also be helped to return. A day celebrating the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants was then introduced. It would be held annually on June 22nd, the same day the MV Empire Windrush ship arrived in 1948.
Grant educated his audience on a difficult subject matter that they may have otherwise not known about. He was enthusiastic and he involved his audience members, informing them of the research and writing processes that went into the book.
Currently, a review is being carried out to ensure that nothing like the Windrush Scandal ever happens again. Grant believes that “no apology can compensate for their humiliation – but compensation would ease their resentment.” He also said: “Britain must pay its debts to the Windrush generation – no matter what it costs.”