7 June 2023

What does the public know and think about the Windrush?

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What do people know about the Windrush? And who is up for celebrating the 75th anniversary of its arrival in the UK this year? British Future's Steve Ballinger examines the new research into public awareness and appetite for Windrush75 – and finds a broad appetite to learn and understand more about our shared history.

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Steve Ballinger
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Just over half of the public is aware of the Windrush, the ship that brought more than 800 new arrivals from the Caribbean to Britain and has since become synonymous with Britain’s post-war history of migration. Later this month sees the 75th anniversary of its arrival at Tilbury in Essex on 22 June 1948.

Researching our new report Why the Windrush matters today, Focaldata asked people to name the ‘particular ship that has become symbolic of Commonwealth migration to Britain’. Some 55% picked ‘Windrush’ from a shortlist of four – while 13% thought it was the HMS Victory. As with many historical events, young people are the least aware, with 13% of 18-24s able to name the ship compared to 87% of those aged over 65.

Fewer still were aware of the date of its arrival. So despite public events being planned across the country, awareness of this month’s 75th anniversary may still be quite limited. Only 28% of the public were able to correctly choose 1948 from a list of four dates, though awareness among Black Caribbean respondents was significantly higher at 45%. Participants in our discussion groups, conducted in April, wondered why Windrush 75 hadn’t yet received more publicity.

That is all due to change in the coming weeks, with scores of events taking place to mark the anniversary. Over the next few weeks we’ll see a Windrush Concert at the Albert Hall and a thanksgiving service at Southwark Cathedral; Windrush flags raised in town squares across the UK; as well as street parties and community festivals from Exeter to Edinburgh and Cardiff to Ipswich.

Six in ten people (61%) feel that the 75th anniversary of the Windrush is an important moment for Britain, rising to 71% of ethnic minority Britons and 84% of Black Caribbeans. Just over half of the public (53%) – and two-thirds of people from an ethnic minority background – would like to learn more about it. And as an important aspect of Britain’s history, three quarters (74%) of the general public think children should be taught about Windrush in school.

People from an ethnic minority background feel this particularly strongly. Some 89% of Black Caribbean respondents want children to learn about the Windrush story at school. In our discussion groups, some Black Caribbean participants spoke of their worries that young people in their community do not see the Windrush as particularly relevant to their lives today, and of a desire to ensure that the story is passed down to the next generation. Our research found that only around half of ethnic minority 18-25s feel that Windrush 75 events are for ‘people like me’ – compared to 63% of the ethnic minority population across all ages.

British Future has worked with The Linking Network to produce a series of educational resources to help schools teach the Windrush story, including lesson and tutorial plans, guidelines for working with Windrush Generation elders and two videos to show in assemblies, featuring Windrush Generation elders sharing their stories with students. They can all be downloaded for free from The Linking Network’s website.

Some participants in our discussion groups also felt that schools could hold the key to using Windrush 75 as a moment to build bridges in local communities. Involving children in our diverse classrooms in Windrush events, and then inviting their parents along, could help bring people from different backgrounds together. The engagement of major national institutions with Windrush 75 will also help to extend the reach of the Windrush anniversary to majority audiences. The Windrush story is part of British history and is something for all of us, but it is particularly important for those from the Black Caribbean community, who are a full 25 points more likely than white respondents to say that Windrush events are ‘for people like me’.

A quarter of the public won’t be joining the party, saying that they don’t care about the story of the Windrush. But while some recent debates about race and commemorating Britain’s history have become angry and polarised, we found little evidence in our research that the anniversary of the Windrush would get caught up in ‘culture war’ arguments. It’s true that those who feel most positive about immigration are much more likely to attend a Windrush event than those who feel most negative about it; but we did not encounter strong negative reactions to marking the Windrush anniversary. Rather there was a general warmth towards it: an appetite to discover more and for young people to learn, together with a desire to acknowledge the contribution of those who came to help rebuild the country after the war. “It matters because it’s our history,” we were told. “It shaped the country.”

Read the ‘Why the Windrush matters today’ report here

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