The contributions and impact of the Windrush Generation permeates every aspect of life in the UK, from food, fashion, music, language and so much more. Louise Chandler shares her experiences and life lessons learned from growing up in a Windrush Generation household.
Monday 22 June 2020 marked 72 years since the SS Empire Windrush ship arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex. Almost 500 West Indian men and women tentatively left the ship, bravely taking their first steps toward a new life 5,000 miles away from home. My parents were among the Windrush Generation who had left the lush green countryside of rural Barbados to start a new life in England.
Arriving in the early 1960s, Reading, Berkshire would be the place they would call home, work, raise a family and live a life. I grew up as the youngest of six kids. My dad passed away when I was toddler, so my earliest memories revolve around my mum and my siblings who formed a protective and loving circle around me.
My mum, Una Chandler, is a 5ft matriarch who shows kindness and compassion but growing up, she also exemplified graceful personal conduct and instilled discipline in our household. As I grew up, I learned about resilience, determination and how to have a ‘can do’ attitude from my mum. As the oldest of 10 kids, my mum left school in Barbados at 12 or 13 years old to look after her siblings and never completed her education even though she was bright and keen to learn. As a primary school student, I remember when my mum decided to go to adult education college and study English. I would sit and do my homework in the evenings and my mum would do the same. She was honest about her limitations, but also knew that she could and would improve if she found the right opportunity. From then onwards I learned that you can work hard to achieve great things if you have the right attitude and it’s never too late to develop your skills and improve.
I learned from my mum that it’s okay to stay true to your purpose and command a seat at the table.
I learned from my mum that it’s okay to stay true to your purpose and command a seat at the table. In the nineties, after studying theology, mum would become the first Black female Methodist preacher in the local area. She operated in a space where she was different to others in many ways and that took courage and guts knowing people were questioning and openly doubtful. Even when she was told that the training would be tough, and that she might not pass her exams and there were doubts that she could juggle the demands of the role with a large family, that didn’t stop her. I learned that people are often afraid of things they don’t understand and for many, my West Indian mum was like no one they had ever met. But she was gracious and politely persistent when challenges came her way and also stood by her core beliefs and values. She knew she could do it and her Christian faith sustained her. During my working life and career as a broadcaster, business owner and professional work this lesson stayed with me: ‘stay true to your ability and purpose to run your own race and achieve what is important to you, no matter what the naysayers think!’
Nothing in life is easy, but a lesson I learned from my mum was how to be buoyant when challenged and have a vision to succeed.
Nothing in life is easy, but a lesson I learned from my mum was how to be buoyant when challenged and have a vision to succeed. During my early twenties I was learning to drive. My instructor would take me for lessons to learn the manoeuvres that would satisfy the criteria to pass my test and my mum would also take me for practice sessions. One week before my test we were driving along a main road and a large truck crashed into the passenger side of our car. As our car shook and rocked from side to side from the impact of the collision, I swore profusely from the shock. But mum was quiet and calm. After we exchanged details with the other driver, I refused to drive. But mum had other plans. She explained that I had to get back in and drive now otherwise I would never drive again and that would be a waste of everything I had worked to achieve. Trembling and shaking I got back into the driver’s seat and we continued our journey. That day I learned what strength of mind can do and also never to give up.
The Windrush Generation are a fantastic source of culture and history. They are the living links in the historical chain, eyewitnesses to history and shapers of a vital and indigenous way of life. I feel privileged to have learned the experiences that made me who I am from my mum. It’s important that the younger generations learn about the living traditions, the food, celebrations, customs, music, occupations and skills from our Windrush Generation. Their stories, memories and traditions are powerful expressions of community life and values and it’s vital that we hold on to that legacy.