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Westminster Abbey celebrates Windrush 70th anniversary

PICTURED: (left to right) Winston Whyte, John Richards and Allan Wilmot at the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, London

OVER 2,000 people descended upon the steps of Westminster Abbey to mark a special service celebrating 70 years since the arrival of Caribbean migrants on the Empire Windrush ship to the UK.

Guests across various communities and industries turned up to mark the contribution made by those from the Caribbean, with attendees including Prime Minister Theresa May, MP Diane Abbott, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Home Secretary Sajid David, Baroness Floella Benjamin and more.

The hour-long service, conducted by The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, included a steel drum performance played by Shern Hall Methodist Youth Steel band, as guests entered the Abbey. As the music played, Baroness Floella Benjamin was applauded as she briefly danced in the nave.

The service commenced with a dramatic exploration of how Caribbean migrants were invited to “The Motherland” to help rebuild post-war Britain.

The short drama, directed by Roy Alexander Weise, was performed by actors and represented the sacrifice and journey made my 492 people this very day 70 years ago.

Among hymns performed throughout the service, The Very Rev John Hall, Dean of Westminster, wore a robe decorated with a photomontage of aspects of black history in Britain since the arrival of Windrush.

The robe, designed by internationally-renowned artist Terry Duff, features images illustrating aspects of black history in Britain since the arrival of the Empire Windrush on June 22 1948, including the original 1948 “British citizen” passport issued to Alford Gardner, a passenger on the ship, and an image of Sam King, another of the ship’s passengers, who later became the first black mayor of Southwark.

Addressing the congregation, the Reverend Canon Joel Edwards said: "When Windrush arrived in 1948 it was more than a boat of black people disembarking in their double breasted suits, starch ironed dresses and their suitcases – or what we would call them, grits.”

While acknowledging the arrival of the Caribbean migrants, Rev Joel Edwards admitted that the settling down was far from smooth sailing.

"The children of Windrush have experienced over-representation in Britain's prisons and mental health institutions, knife crimes, underachievement in education and the job market,” he said.

“Settlement has meant racism, sometimes too much policing and not enough protection. And Stephen Lawrence."

But he added: "Windrush resilience arises, supremely."

While descendants of the Windrush Generation may struggle, the service did acknowledge their contributions to various sectors, from entertainment to sport, highlighting Walter Tull, Learie Constantine, Black Panther’s Leticia Wright and Naomi Campbell for their significant impact to British culture through their respected fields.

Key community figures like Darcus Howe and Doreen Lawrence – who was also in attendance – where mentioned for their dedication to better the lives of black people in the UK.

The Westminster Abbey service marked one of the many celebrations taking place across the capital, including a celebration of Caribbean culture at Tilbury Docks to mark the anniversary.

The government has also announced Baroness Floella Benjamin is to lead a commemoration committee overseeing the creation of a "fitting legacy" to the Windrush generation.

Earlier this week, the government also announced an annual Windrush Day would take place, following the explosive Windrush scandal, which revealed many migrants from the Windrush Generation had faced deportation.

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