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NHS Windrush workforce celebrated at special event

LEGACY: NHS

AN EVENT to celebrate the Windrush legacy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ took place last week and saw impassioned speeches from MPs, music from the Kensington Temple Choir and an exhibition of Windrush photos.

The St Thomas Windrush celebration celebrated the anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Tilbury Docks, Essex, bringing the first Jamaican immigrants to Britain after World War Two. They and the others who followed helped build the NHS and continue to play a crucial role with one in five of the NHS’ workforce from a Black and Minority Ethnic background.

David Lammy, Member of Parliament for Tottenham, who spoke at the event at St Thomas’ chapel, said he felt it “important to come to a hospital” to celebrate the Windrush legacy.

He said: “It’s important to think about the contribution of so many West Indian and Caribbean nurses, some of whom included my Aunts and family, who came here and built the modern NHS as we experience and enjoy it.”

He said St Thomas’ is in a key position in London opposite Parliament and also serves the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

“These are areas hugely important to the Caribbean and West Indian community that arrived here, they arrived to places like Peckham and Brixton and other areas. This was a hospital that served them.”

Janet Daby, Member of Parliament for Lewisham East, said: “This event is very significant. For people like my parents back in their own countries of origin, this was always the country they aspired to come to, the country they looked up to and had great aspirations for. In those early days in the 1950 and 60s they were thrilled to come to the UK.

Karen Bonner, divisional director of nursing at Chelsea and Westminster and former Guy’s and St Thomas’ corporate head of nursing, added:: “On Windrush Day for me it’s really important for us to take the opportunity to pause and reflect on the inspirational work and contribution that people have made to the UK from diverse backgrounds. And today particularly those that travelled from the Caribbean.”

Bonner said it was also important to be at St Thomas’ Windrush celebration because the hospital hosts the Mary Seacole statue in its garden, which immortalises the story of a Jamaican nurse who cared for sick soldiers in the battlefields of the Crimea.

“It mattered for me to come here today because I worked here and this place holds a very dear place to me in my heart. The Windrush was the signal for the arrival of BME people from the Caribbean who played an important role in building the NHS to begin with and continue to contribute. They make the NHS the great institution that it is today.”

Speaking after the chapel service, Reverend Mia Hilborn, chaplaincy team leader, said: “Today was all about celebrating the hugely positive role that people from the Caribbean have played in the creation and ongoing transformation of our NHS and specifically at Guy’s and St Thomas’. We were trying to say to brothers and sisters and colleagues that we love you, and we want to know more about you and we’re really glad you’re here.”

The photography exhibition featured social reportage around south London of Windrush immigrants by Jim Grover from his photo-essay Windrush: Portrait of a Generation. See www.windrushportraitofageneration.com

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