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How the Windrush generation changed the United Kingdom

OPENING SPEECH: Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT

THE DOCKING of the Windrush on these shores heralded the start of mass immigration to the UK from the Caribbean and a huge change of the country’s cultural make-up.

Between 1951 and 1961 the number of Caribbean people living in Britain in search of a better life increased from 15,000 to 172,000.

The UK was seen as the mother country, and when immigrants arrived here, many expected to be welcomed with open arms. This, unfortunately, was not the case. They were greeted with cold indifference, racism and hardship. However, that first generation of Caribbean immigrants had a strong sense of identity, a community spirit and strong Christian values, which enabled them to overcome the difficulties they encountered, and make a life here.

One of the most enduring legacies of the Windrush Generation are the black majority churches they founded during the 1950s and 60s. Denominations created during this period include the New Testament Church of God, the Church of God of Prophecy, Bibleway Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, Bethel United Church of Christ Apostolic, First Born Church of the Living God and many more.

Black majority churches, as they came to be known provided a place where black people could meet, worship God, have their culture and ethnicity affirmed – something that was particularly necessary, as British society at the time rarely celebrated black culture and achievement. They also provided a place for the black community to share their stories, gain spiritual strength and learn and develop skills in an informal setting and then put those skills to good use in the wider world in fields such as singing, public speaking, team management and caring for others.

The religious fervour inherent within the black Christian community has impacted other church denominations that have been inspired and influenced by its passionate worship, dynamic and inspirational preaching and soulful singing.

Furthermore, Caribbean churches were the first in the UK to develop relationships with the wider church community, and speak out about the racism they encountered from their fellow white Christians. They laid the foundations for the cordial relationships that the growing African churches now experience with other denominations.

The impact of the Windrush arrivals extends beyond issues of faith – the influence of their children and their grandchildren is felt in all areas of British society.

But there’s no doubting the fact that its influence is most potently felt through its churches and their contribution to the spiritual fabric of this nation.

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