Discover things to do on and around Windrush Day (22 June) in our dedicated roundup.
"It was incredible the response we had when we opened... in the first week we had to buy boxes and boxes of tissues because people would come in and they would reminisce and share their stories... we were full of emotion," says Deborah Klass, remembering an exhibition at the Windrush Generation Legacy Association in Croydon's Whitgift Centre, which she established in 2019.
Klass is one of many spirited women who feature in Windrush: A Voyage Through the Generations — a new photo essay by Jim Grover, celebrating the rich legacy of Windrushers (people who came from the Caribbean to live and work in Britain post-war), on the 75th anniversary of the SS Empire Windrush docking at Tilbury.
"As I looked for examples of individuals doing inspiring things to keep the culture and traditions alive, I kept finding women," Jim Grover tells me, ahead of the launch of the exhibition at Clapham Library, which runs from the start of June 2023. "The first generation of women played a huge role, whether it be professionally, for example as nurses in the NHS, or whether it be as homemakers, mothers and grandmothers and they have become an inspiration for some."
Among the subjects in Grover's paean to London's Caribbean community we meet the Stockwell Good Neighbours; a community group formed in 1974 for the over 60s, most of whom are first generation Caribbean migrants; Elaine Roberts, a second generation Windrusher from Jamaica who prepares free takeaways for the local community in Clapham; and singer/songwriter Audrey Scott, launching a lovers' rock exhibition at the Windrush Generation Legacy Association.
Then there is 110-year-old Merah-Louise Smith — amongst the oldest, if not the oldest, woman of Caribbean heritage alive today in the UK. "I used to go to the gym…I was kick boxing and line dancing," Smith told Grover recently. "She only gave these up at the age of 103 on doctor's orders!" laughs Grover.
Back in 2018, Grover had his first Windrush-themed exhibition, Windrush: Portrait of a Generation, which saw 13,000 visitors in 17 days — a record for gallery@oxo. "Most importantly for me, around half were of Caribbean heritage and they loved it… and it made them feel proud to be recognised and celebrated in this way," he tells me. As a white man, Grover — who likes to get to know, and earn the trust of, his subjects before photographing them — was keen to tell visitors and subjects alike: "This is your story…not mine…feel proud!"
This time around, Grover says he was keen to do something a little different. Aside from focussing on women, he also wanted to continue the story of the Windrushers. While photos of first generation figures like Merah-Louise Smith and Alford Gardner (one of just two known remaining adult passengers who came over on the Windrush in 1948) check in with old faces, this photo essay is very much about 'what came next'.
"The new work explores how the subsequent generations are leading their lives today and what is becoming of the distinctive traditions that the first generation brought with them," says Grover.
The passing-of-the-torch for hobbies, jobs and traditions is at the heart of of Windrush: A Voyage Through the Generations. Doves are released in Lambeth Cemetery by siblings, marking the life of their departed mum. Kerryn Ghann and Krystyna Antoine, third generation twin sisters, both work for the NHS — a career path taken by many original Windrushers. Says Kerryn: "I don't want my Caribbean culture to fizz out and I don't want 'my girlies' to question their Jamaican roots."
Some of the 70 photographs — which are also available as a book — feature the newest generation; one shot captures the baptism of Sariyah, the great granddaughter, and thus fourth generation, of Floris Bailey who arrived from Jamaica in the 1950s.
Elsewhere, nine-year old Jeremiah learns the art of dominoes — a Caribbean favourite — from older members at the Brixton Immortals Domino Club. "He loves to play dominoes… he loves to win… he is always asking for a round of dominoes," says Jeremiah's mum.
Windrush: A Voyage Through the Generations, Clapham Library, 1 June-2 September, free