Whitgift Centre pop-up museum provides a tribute and legacy

On display: the pop-up museum is worth seeking out in the Whitgift Centre

A vacant unit in a shopping centre is the venue for an exhibition which celebrates the history of the Windrush generation. KEN TOWL was impressed by what he found there

Deighton flew from Barbados to England in 1961 with the intention of working here for five years before returning home with his savings.

He knew there were jobs: the NHS, British Rail and London Transport all recruited workers in Barbados. On arrival in London, Deighton soon landed a job as a train guard on the Bakerloo Line and then Tube driver on the District Line.

Dorothy flew to England from Jamaica and worked as a domestic and cook, and then at the Kenco factory.

They met at a social event, married and stayed in England.

More of their history – and others like it – is to be found at an exhibition that is hidden away among the shops in the ailing Whitgift shopping centre in the middle of Croydon.

Detailed: the recreated living room appears to be remarkably accurate

The Windrush Generation Legacy Association exhibition takes up space once used by, I believe, a shop that used to sell luggage, a victim no doubt of the virus. Luggage sales must have plummeted over the past 18 months.

In the luggage shop’s place, you can now see grainy pictures of smiling optimistic young people carrying their suitcases on their way to the “motherland”, a place they believed would welcome them with open arms, prepared, as they were, to work hard for their crust. As some of these stories attest, however, that welcome was not always as warm as it might have been.

Christian Cole arrived in England in 1962 and met with racism from the start.

A well-spoken young man, he several times secured accommodation over the phone only to find it was no longer available when he turned up in person. This, of course, was back in the pre-woke days when signs along the lines of “No Irish, No blacks, No dogs” were legal.

Unable to afford medical school fees, Christian had to abandon his ambition to become a doctor. Barred from joining the union, he then had to abandon his second chosen profession, journalism. He eventually became a nurse, one of the first cohort of students to graduate through Mayday Hospital.

Apart from the photos and the stories on the walls that bring to life the individual struggles and the highs and lows of members of the Windrush generation, the exhibition also lovingly recreates the rooms of a typical 1960s British/West Indian household.

I particularly liked the living room with its ornaments, radiogram and drinks tray bearing Wray & Nephew white rum and Cherry B.

If you are lucky, you might get to meet Joan who, along with daughter Frances, has been instrumental in putting together this fine exhibition. Joan, whose image is to be found on the wall smiling beatifically as she cuts her wedding cake in 1961, is keen to engage with visitors and get their feedback on the exhibits.

I asked her if she thought things had improved over the decades and she said that they had, though she made a good point, too, about how the Windrush generation had at least arrived in Britain at a time of full employment. In that sense today’s young people are not so lucky.

Like stepping back into the past: the 1960s living room looks like a set from Call The Midwife

Joan, however, is a born optimist and a firm believer that if people set their minds to it, they can overcome obstacles and make their way in life. For her, the stories on the walls exemplify this spirit.

Frances tells me that the exhibition should be around for a few months – I suspect that the Whitgift is unlikely to find a commercial tenant for the space any time soon – and that the WGLA is keen to collect more stories from the Windrush generation.

You can contact them via info@thewindrushgla.co.uk or by phone on 020 3772 4545, and you can go and see them at 1036-7, on the first floor of the Whitgift Centre (go up the escalators opposite Superdry and then head towards M&S).

I would recommend a visit, the chance to contemplate the human spirit and its will to triumph over adversity, discrimination and miserable weather is one that shopping alone does not provide.

Read more: Share your thoughts on national Windrush Memorial designs

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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