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'Windrush monument is a link to our past' says Benjamin

HERITAGE: Baroness Floella Benjamin announced the news of a monument to the Windrush Generation; inset below, the famous Empire Windrush

FLOELLA BENJAMIN OBE has welcomed the news of a new Windrush monument to be located in Waterloo station, calling it “a symbolic link to our past as we celebrate our future.”

Benjamin, who was one of the thousands to arrive at Waterloo station from Southampton Docks, announced the news at Somerset House on Saturday (Jun 22) alongside Windrush Committee members Simon Frederick, Nero Ughwujabo and Paulette Simpson. The news came as the UK celebrated its first national Windrush Day with a range of government-funded school projects, street parties, exhibitions, talks and workshops to honour the Windrush legacy.

London’s largest station was chosen from a list of potential sites by the Windrush Commemoration Committee, established exactly one year ago by the Prime Minister. “There was much debate about where the monument would be located and we had various sites we could look at,” Benjamin told The Voice.

“And the brief we had was that the monument had to be in a centrally located position where it had a high footfall and it was significant and permanent.

“So we had to look across the capital and I immediately thought about Waterloo Station. This is where I first landed in London from Southampton docks and it’s a grand, historical building with heritage.”

The location of the monument comes after it was announced that Waterloo station would receive a £200 million refurbishment. The renovation will include a variety of shops and restaurants that will be located inside the station, which will open up along the South Bank - an area which attracts millions of visitors, and will provide an opportunity for many to learn about the history of the WIndrush Generation.

“Network Rail said yes to us immediately after asking, and as the station is refurbished, it'll become a go-to destination in the heart of the city, attracting visitors from all over the world who will be able to see our monument,” said Benjamin.

While some critics have argued that the monument should be located in Brixton or Lambeth - areas synonymous with London’s Windrush community - the Windrush Committee highlighted the significance of Waterloo station to the Windrush Generation and the importance of sharing their story to the masses.

“Having the monument in Brixton or Lambeth would have been limited to people in those areas and I want everyone to see it and celebrate it. Waterloo station is part of our heritage,” said the 69-year-old.

“Each year, I want our people to make a pilgrimage to Waterloo station to see the monument, and celebrate it on Windrush Day. And for those who don’t know our history, they will be able to see it and learn about it in one of the busiest and most iconic stations in Britain.”

Following the announcement, the Windrush Committee, chaired by Benjamin, will look to commission and work with designers and stakeholders over the coming months to consider how best to create a lasting, and fitting tribute to the Windrush Generation and their descendants, backed by up to £1 million funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

“I want the creator behind the monument to be someone of BME background and for them to help come up with something creative, joyful and makes you feel proud,” stated Benjamin.

While many marked the first annual Windrush Day with celebration, others were keen to highlight the injustices still faced by many members of the Windrush Generation - something that Benjamin has not forgotten.

“I’m always speaking to the Home Office asking them ‘what’s going on?’ and at the moment myself, my committee and many people are trying to work out a solution for the people who are struggling and my heart goes out to them - it could be me.

“We want to make sure we are working in tandem with the people who’s suffering now, but at the end to say to them all, out of the bad always comes good - we had to have the scandal to get to where we are."

Benjamin added: “I want to make sure that in 100 years time, your descendants will celebrate the Windrush generation through this monument and that’s what it's all about."

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