Last year, Reading’s Caribbean Associations Group and Reading Museum co-founded a brand new consortium: the Reading Windrush Project. A steering committee was formed and joined forces with Reading’s Alliance for Racial and Community Cohesion (ACRE) and the charity, AGE UK Berkshire.
The aim of the project was to celebrate and honour the remarkable heritage of Reading's vibrant Caribbean community and the Windrush Generation on Windrush Day in 2019. The project tailored a programme of events that were delivered for and by the community.
We recently spoke with Jeff Jones, the Chairperson of Reading’s Caribbean Associations Group and member of the project’s Steering board. He was at the centre of the work involved in creating last year's events. Below, he reflects on its success and his hopes for the future of Windrush Day observance in our town!
From netball to cricket, hula hoop to footie, a central part of our heritage has always been sport. So, it was natural that one of the first items on our agenda was to plan a Sports Day, bringing together the community through sport in the great outdoors.
From the word 'Go!' the response we met was enormous. So much so that we quickly recognised that we had to increase the ambition of our plans.
We changed location to South Reading Leisure Centre, with much increased capacity. It meant we could put on even more activities, and even invite Birmingham's Windrush Community to get involved!
At the same time, we secured more funding from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government. This let us acquire improved changing rooms, and even hire out indoor facilities so that not even rain could affect our event!
When the big day finally came, it was a fantastic occasion for all. There were competitive games and ‘pick up and play’ games, with teams ranging from veterans to young wide-eyed children. We had over three-hundred visitors cheering from the stands. And it wasn't just sport! There was an opening prayer, Caribbean music and food, face-painting, and info stalls sharing our heritage.
It was an amazing day, celebrating our history through enjoyment and fun.
We're incredibly proud of our cultural heritage, and it felt important to ensure that this was represented by the Project.
Working with Reading-based theatre group Too Heavy Productions, we decided that we'd stage a play. We commissioned one to be written especially for the event. It was staged at Reading's MAPP centre - a place we have strong ties with through the Apollo Youth Club.
The play was set in a Saturday school. These places were a bedrock for our community. They provided us and descendants of the Windrush with education and information about our heritage and identity.
We and Steve McCauley (Too Heavy Productions) wanted to ensure that the drama was as authentic a representation of our story as it could be. We created a fully immersive experience using heritage objects and collections as a backdrop. Among these were traditional music, spoken word poetry, prayers, and live interviews with our elders.
The play premiered at the end of October’s Black History Month. It was performed brilliantly by the young but expert actors of Too Heavy Productions. There were over a hundred people in the audience, who were spellbound by the narrative. The feedback they provided was unanimously positive!
The music was fabulous, too. The Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra (RASPO) provided a wonderful ensemble performance. Jeff 'De Admiral' Hinds followed this up with his brilliant calypso. We were really sorry, though, that the Serenaders elders were unable to sing due to ill health.
Ultimately, the whole event was a treat for all of us, and truly captured the spirit of our story. Mary Genis of RASPO commented: ‘it feels like we are at home'.
Earlier in 2020, we applied for a new round of funding from the government to continue our Windrush Project in the coming year.
At the beginning of March, we were delighted to hear that our funding bid had been successful!
Although it's been a very difficult year, we're very pleased that we've been able to celebrate our heritage and the Windrush story through the digital programme that we've worked on with the Museum. You can discover all of it over on the Reading Museum Windrush Day 2020 page. We hope you enjoy all the resources that are available, and we're looking forward to everything to come on Windrush Day itself!