Windrush 75: How Caribbean dance, music, and food came to England

In large part to the Windrush generation, the influence of the Caribbean can be found across the Midlands.

Many of the Caribbean families which now call the region home first arrived here during the period between 1948 and 1971 - invited by the British government as a way to help fill desperate labour shortages in the years following the Second World War.

Decades later, there are the annual Caribbean carnivals in Birmingham, Leicester, and Derby - to name just a few - as well as music venues, restaurants and clothing stores.

Ralph Dewu runs Cerrura Fashions in Walsall, specialising in Afro-Caribbean clothing with a particular focus on Mother of the Bride outfits.

Speaking to ITV News Central, he said: "I think what makes Caribbean fashion special or different is definitely the colours.

“They're just vibrant and bright and bold, colourful colours.

"And you can see now how that has influenced fashion more widely - there’s a lot more variety; more colours and vibrant fashions now.”

Food, of course, plays a huge part in Caribbean culture.

Food plays a large role in Caribbean culture. Credit: ITV News Central

Leave It To Esmie is a restaurant and street food business based in Coventry, but which can be found popping up at street food markets across the region too.

Owner, Esmie Stewart said: "It's about the flavours, the attitude - it just gives you that vibe when you eat Caribbean food.”

"I think if I could describe Caribbean food in three words, it’s: ‘sunshine on plate’.”

Many of the arrivals, of course, first settled in London - but not everyone enjoyed life in the capital.

Reuben Campbell first came to the UK as a 20-year-old, having left his job as a meat-cutter in Jamaica.

He arrived during one of the worst winters on record, he says, and after a few days in London he decided it wasn’t for him.

Instead, he settled in Wolverhampton, and went on to form the Wolverhampton Commonwealth Cricket Club - as well as opening pubs across the area, including the Rising Star Club in Bilston - which now, of course, is the Robin 2.

His daughter Carole Campbell said: “I'm so proud of him, so proud of him and all his achievements.

"I know it wasn't easy when when they came here in the 60s, he’s told me of a lot of his experiences he and my mother had here.

"I am so, so proud of everything he's achieved despite the obstacles and against the odds."

Those obstacles included racism, and hostility from the country which - let’s not forget - had invited them to come here.

In many cases, they were refused bank loans to start their own businesses, as well as being refused entry to white-owned pubs and restaurants, and all but banned from joining members clubs.

Their stories are now being told by performers at the Birmingham-based Rush Theatre Company, which is now touring the country - including a show at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre on Windrush Day.

After seeing the show, Reuben was so moved that he now helps out at the Grand, encouraging others to visit more often.

He says with more Caribbean influences being seen on stage, he’s seen theatre audiences expand too.

"It’s very pleasing because I've seen more black and West Indian turnout at the Grand,” he said.

“It’s really good, fantastic, what going on here at the moment.”

Meanwhile in Bearwood in Sandwell, high on the wall of a social club is a plaque honouring another member of the Windrush generation: legendary jazz musician Andy Hamilton.

Before he died in 2012, he could be found playing with his band the Blue Notes most weeks in Birmingham, as well as working with young people and inspiring future musicians across the region.

In 2008, he was awarded an MBE for services to music.

His grandson Louis Hamilton-Foad has now taken up the mantle, playing drums with his band Impossible Conversations.

He said: "I hope he’d feel pretty proud of what I’m doing now. 

"My granddad's music is like some of the best music I've heard and I love playing the songs on both albums.

"For me, I think jazz music is in everything - it gets involved in all music, you can hear it in rock or even pop. 

"So I think it played quite a big role in music today, and I would have made quite a big difference if it wasn't there."

And through the descendants of the Windrush arrivals, like Louis, the legacy of those who came here lives on.

Wolverhampton’s Beverley Knight even paid tribute during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall just last week, telling the audience: “My mum and dad were part of the second wave of Windrush, so I'm on the stage in honour of their hard work.”

But more than anything, for many, their biggest contribution to UK culture has simply been being part of society.

"We’ve covered all areas,” Carole Campbell added. 

"The biggest contribution is being here and being part of society - especially in the health service. 

"We’ve taken on the culture. All my parents and they're their friends have taken on the culture of England and made it home.

They wanted to be part of the community, not a separate community, wanted to be part of the community and fit in.”

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