‘We can forgive but never forget’

New scheme set up to support Northampton’s Windrush community

By Natalie Bloomer

When the first cases of the Windrush scandal began to emerge in 2017, the government was dismissive. When challenged in parliament over the treatment of Sylvester Marshall, who was denied cancer treatment because hospital staff wrongly believed he was an undocumented migrant, the then prime minister Theresa May said she was not aware of a problem. 

A string of damning articles by the Guardian's Amelia Gentleman followed, each with more shocking details of how people, mainly from the Caribbean but who had spent most of their lives in the UK, were being denied services or worse being detained and deported.

They were people like Paulette Wilson who once worked in the canteen of the Houses of Parliament but was later held in Yarl's Wood detention centre and threatened with deportation to Jamaica despite having left the country when she was 10. Paulette died just two years after her case became public. Or like Northampton's Ivan Anglin who was deported under a Labour government in 1998 after returning to the UK from his sister's funeral. It was another 20 years before he was able to return to Northampton after his case was raised by the Guardian. 

As pressure grew on the government the home secretary at the time Amber Rudd apologised for the scandal saying "how they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling. I am sorry". A taskforce was set up to handle thousands of cases and compensation was promised. But for many in the Windrush community the hurt caused by the scandal remains.

"We can forgive but never forget," one Northampton resident told volunteers from The Windrush Generation Doorstep Befriending Team, a scheme set up to support people from the Windrush community during the Covid pandemic. The group delivers cultural hampers packed full of items sourced from local Black and independent businesses.

The initiative was started by Shereen Ingram, owner of local business Boxfood and founder of the organisation Norfamton.

"It’s really important that we understand the Windrush scandal and how it crossed over with the Coronavirus pandemic. Both have devastated lives and continue to do so," Shereen says. 

"I've always been aware of the size of the Windrush community in Northampton because I am from a big Jamaican family myself and I knew that the elderly had been particularly hit hard by the pandemic so I wanted to do something aimed at those people."

Shereen's own grandfather Vincent Ingram came to the UK during the Windrush era. 'Maas Vin' as he was known to family and community members went on to become one of Northampton's first black train drivers and worked on the trains for many years. 

"The Windrush scandal hasn't been put right, we know there are still people with outstanding cases or that haven't received compensation yet and these are the same people who are being hit hardest by the pandemic," Shereen says.

“Covid has impacted people from all walks of life but it has had a disproportionate impact on Black communities, including those that are both Black and elderly. With the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal still continuing, community outreach and wellbeing is more important now than ever before.”

Data published by the Home Office last summer showed that at the time nine in 10 applications to the Windrush compensation scheme were still awaiting an outcome, with just 143 claims out of 1,480 being settled. Payments were stepped up in the months that followed but the Labour Party said last month that over 1,500 people were still waiting for their claim to be paid.

The team in Northampton has only been running since February but has already visited around 20 people. They say everyone is thrilled to receive one of the packages and often ask ‘why me?’.

"They are so grateful for the hampers, they sing and dance when we turn up. People can't forget what happened but they won't be held hostage to the past either. It was a horrible thing that happened but we also hear so many funny and happy stories about people coming over on the boats - some met their husband or wife on the way over. They are stories of love and hope. We have a lot to learn from them.”