Since that seminal day on 22 June 1948 when the Windrush disembarked 492 people from the Caribbean, the reception has been less than warm for this group of pioneering eco-migrants. Seventy years ago, they came to answer the call for “willing hands” to assist the “mother country”. Today, these men and women have retired – some suffering from dementia, others not as firm on their feet as they were upon their arrival in their twenties – with many seeking solace in the culturally-specific day care provision provided at the Marcus Garvey Day Care Centre.
The Marcus Garvey Centre, named after the celebrated black activist, journalist and Jamaica's first national hero, is situated on the site of the former Raleigh Cycle Company. The building was designed to be the head office of Raleigh Cycles, which by 1919 had become the biggest manufacturer of bicycles in the world, exporting bicycles to the Caribbean and Africa amongst other places. The company manufactured over a million bicycles in 1951 which, in fact, was the reason that the African Carribean community made contact with Raleigh; those “willing hands” needed a place to work.
Today, the space is an important structure in the history of the black community, notably for the successful challenge to the then racist, discriminatory employment policies of Raleigh, as documented by Nottingham Black Archive. Oswald George Powe, a community activist for racial equality, campaigned for change to the company's discriminatory employment policy. Having failed in negotiations, Powe sought the assistance of Jamaica's first Premier, Norman Manley, who promptly placed an embargo upon bicycle imports from England. This action helped change the company's employment policy and led to Raleigh becoming one of the largest employers of African Caribbean workers in Nottingham.
The proposed plan by the City Council to effectively sever ties between the black community and the Marcus Garvey Centre is another slap in the face. This is particularly shocking after the Government admitted its treatment of the Windrush generation had been “appalling”, and promised to reform their immigration system and better compensate those affected by the hostile environment policies.
I visited the Marcus Garvey Centre to meet Tyron Browne, centre manager. Tyron has been involved with Marcus Garvey for forty years and was one of the founders of the Day Care provision twenty years ago. Tyron explained: “The building came into play after a local resident that died was not discovered for two weeks. We recognised then that some members of the African Caribbean community did not have familial support, so we decided to look after our elders.”
In the eighties, the Marcus Garvey housed the Association of Musicians and Artists’ recording studio, the West Indian Cavaliers Sports and Social Club and the Matsimela creche facility. Today, the Ballroom and the Day Care provision are the only reminders of what was once a vibrant community. The city’s plan to effectively shut down the centre and relocate the users to another space does not take into account the vital role the centre plays in the lives of the elderly, as Tyron described: “We provide support for our elders with any council tax or pension issues they may have, we provide a programme of leisure activities such as day trips out, attendance at prayer meetings and, most importantly, we assist with day to day living by helping them maintain their Caribbean dietary needs. We know what our elders need and we provide it.”
There have been a number of action group meetings held at ACNA in St Anns, where the outrage is palpable. There is a clear consensus amongst the black community that relocating would be detrimental; a mixed centre environment would not meet the language and dietary needs of the elders. There was also outage at how the City has led on its decision to shut down the centre. Tyron says: “There has been no consultation, the decision was made and approved without notifying us. They did not carry out an impact assessment before deciding to close the centre.” This model of a culturally specific service has been replicated within other areas of the city, with the Indian Centre in Carrington and the Pakistani Centre in St Anns.
Marcus Garvey is, for the elders, not only a place for social enjoyment in their final years but also a space in which their cultural needs are met. The black community continue to plan a series of events, including a protest march, in a bid to get the City Council to rethink its plan. Tyron added: “They can’t hide behind cuts. Our elders have worked and shovelled rubbish for this City so they should be allowed to live in familiar surroundings during their last years.”
Nottingham Black Archive continues to document the black presence at Raleigh with its Windrush Day Grant in partnership with Primary Gallery.