Windrush 75: How the generation left a permanent musical and cultural legacy in the Midlands

  • ITV Central reporter Rajiv Popat reports on the contribution Windrush generation culture has had on the East Midlands

On 22 June 1948, Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks and those on board faced uncertain and challenging times.

They were now in the "Mother Country" – excited, nervous and anxious.

Now, 75 years on, the contribution they and their descendants have made in all areas of life has been enormous; particularly in the way the so-called Windrush Generation transformed arts and culture in the UK.

Tara Munroe, a historian from Leicester who specialises in Black History, says when men and women from the Caribbean arrived in the UK, they brought with them a wealth of talents.

“Black culture is quite literally everywhere," she said. "Just look at music, it started off with Ska music, then we had Bobby Marley and reggae going through to hip and grime.”

In fact, some artists from the West Indies, such as Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, inspired countless bands with their Jamaican Ska.

They were a big influence on groups in the Midlands like The Specials and The Selecter, who were formed in Coventry.

Black culture is 'literally everywhere,' says Leicester historian

But it’s not just music. West Indian food is growing in popularity too.

There are now thousands of restaurants and takeaways serving up everything from sizzling jerk chicken, to rice and peas, to Ackee with Saltfish and vegetarian Jamaican patties.

In Derby, James Batchelor, a rapper and film-maker has even produced a catchy music video featuring cuisine from the Caribbean.

The video is part of a documentary about the experiences of the Windrush generation.

It’s called Small Island Stories and has been compiled by James and his colleague Tandeka Williams.

James said: "These stories don’t hang around forever. My grandparents are no longer with us but they appear in the film.

"At the end of the day, it helps their memories live on forever. It’s important that we tell our own history."

At the African Caribbean Centre in Leicester, a drama group called Can’t Blame Da Youth, is busy working on a hard-hitting play which delves deep into the trauma and harsh reality of moving to Britain.

The actors, young and old, play out scenes which depict racism and hatred.

At the time, there were signs outside shops and businesses telling people "No Blacks, No Irish and No Dogs".

Jo Alexander wrote and directed the play, saying: “It’s touching and incredibly emotional knowing my grandparents went through that.

"My mum feels bitter when she thinks back to those times. She remembers being called names and being spat at.

"It’s upsetting to know they experienced that, but because they did, we are here now.”

Leicester is a melting pot of diverse communities. The city is famous for its vibrant festivals like Diwali.

Every August, thousands of people gather for another colourful event, the Caribbean Carnival.

It started back in 1985 and gets bigger and better every year with more and more dance troupes taking part in the parade which winds its way through the city centre.

Angela O’Neil is a dance teacher with more than a hundred students who’ll be involved in this year’s carnival.

With just six weeks to go, preparations for the big day are well underway.

"It’s all worth the blood, sweat and tears and everyone has a great time on the day itself," she said.

"The fact that those taking part are the product of the Windrush generation, you have to celebrate that. Without them, the carnival wouldn’t be here.”

This year, a carnival took place in Mansfield for the first time. Residents hope it will become a permanent fixture.

Not everyone recognises or appreciates the contribution made by people from Caribbean to British arts; but no one can deny just how much they’ve helped to enrich the cultural landscape of Britain.