"Burning Work " On Windrush Day June 22nd 2020
"The Windrush Defenders" digital forum is joining forces with the West Indian Sports and Social Club, Louise DaCocodia Education Trust and Arawak Walton Housing Association to bridge insights from community testimony, research and legal analysis. Inspired by the testimony of the Windrush Generation, the aim of the digital forum is to amplify and coordinate the "Burning Work" of key community figures tackling racial disparities in areas of community cohesion, criminal justice, education, health and work.
On one hand, the term "Burning Work" speaks to the intergenerational struggle to end the 'serious harm' caused through unlawful detentions, deportations, and discriminatory approaches to policing which reinforce racial disparities. On another hand, it highlights the historic journey of organisations working to overcome insitutional racism, in setting up law firms, churches and commercial enterprises - finding community in the remixing of cultural scenes between soundsystem speaker boxes. When we spoke to Tom Nelson of West Indian Sports and Social Club (WISSC) he told us that:
"The WISSC was created and developed by the Windrush generation, with at least two of its founding fathers sailing to the UK from the Caribbean, on the Windrush Empire ship itself. WISSC has been based at its current Moss Side site since 1976. "
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, much of this work has been redirected through online digital networks, connecting on a national and international scale to simultaneously respond to the disproportionate deaths of black and minority ethnic people in the UK while up to 50,000 people from the Windrush generation remain undocumented. The analysis of how the hostile environment has restricted and damaged community relations for decades is repeatedly put to government through the Windrush Stakeholders Advisory Group (WSAG). This group includes members from Windrush Defenders in Moss Side, Manchester; Glenda Andrews from Preston Windrush Generation and Descendants UK; and Jacqueline McKenzie of McKenzie, Beute and Pope immigration law firm who also run legal surgeries at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, London.
In the wake of the 2018 Windrush Scandal, a group of volunteers in Manchester made up of lawyers, law graduates, entrepreneurs and community activists formed Windrush Defenders, to support the Windrush generation and their descendants. They have worked tirelessly to set up community legal surgeries, from liaising with Home Office officials, calling family members in the Caribbean, to searching for medical records in quest of supporting hundreds of people wanting to rectify their statuses. They also held a series of community engagement events and meetings with local MPs, the Shadow Home Secretary, church leaders, local business owners and charities.
"One of the biggest areas of this work which is not recognised is tending to the mental health and wellbeing of the people we see week in week out. It isn't necessarily spoken, we see it in their body language and weary recount of the stories that got them to this dreadful place in their lives. We see grown men and women break down and cry. Black people are often used to being 'copers ' but we do worry about how they 're doing it and getting by. It feels good when we are told that coming to our surgeries makes people feel the weight is being lifted. All of our clients say they really appreciate the environment and feel able to open up, as some have been to solicitors and the Citizens Advice for support but have not felt supported in the same way." - Lorna Downer, co-founder of Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C reflected.
Testimonies from the surgeries describing individual experiences lit up patterns of racial injustice across social, cultural and economic areas of life. It immediately became apparent that the needs of the Windrush generation go way beyond documenting their status; that long-term advocacy and support was needed to address the deep-rooted effects and damage to African and Caribbean community-state relations caused by decades of hostile approaches to immigration control and enforcement by successive UK governments. Anthony Brown, a director and co-founder of Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C. told us about one client who benefited from their support:
"Winston Dacares is 80 years old and came to the Windrush Defenders surgery for help as he was told he was not able to claim a benefit unless he could prove he was British. He had been in the country since 1961. I visited Winston at home and completed his Windrush scheme application. Eventually he was able to get his citizenship and claim benefits. It turned out he knew my father and told me stories about the early years of my dad in this country I never knew." He said."
The Windrush Defenders group became an integral part of the community, even more so after the compensation scheme was announced in April 2019, as more people sought help with their compensation claims. The group was later established as a Community Interest Company to give reassurance to the Windrush Generation that their support will continue. This also serves as an affirmation that they have an ally in challenging not only the racial injustices caused by the government's hostile environment policy but also the intersecting inequalities repeatedly identified by government reviews such as The Macpherson Report, The Lammy Review, the 2017 Race Disparity Audit and the basis of the current Black Lives Matter movement.
The burning work of Windrush Defenders exposes limits in the current design of justice offered to the Windrush generation. Although the company was set up in 2018, their work is still largely funded by the founders and supported by volunteers, despite creating a key hub for many of the twelve thousand people residing in the UK who have obtained British citizenship or documentation through the Windrush Scheme. This is in addition to building a network of key figures working on Windrush cases, whilst also investigating the terms on which over two thousand people have been refused documentation. The Windrush Compensation Scheme was set up in April 2019 and has rightly been criticised for paying out only £360k from a pot said to hold several hundred million pounds. However, due to pressure from WSAG, the deadline for claiming compensation has recently been extended to 2nd April 2023. This is in addition to the government issuing a tender for claims assistance and announcing £500k funding to support community work, although distribution details remain ambiguous.
The Windrush Lesson's Learned Review (WLLR), conducted by Wendy Williams and published in March 2020, raises a series of political questions. The review highlights a culture of ignorance regarding the implications of former colonial relations; dehumanising approaches to border enforcement; and insufficient assessment on how immigration laws create structural racial discrimination. It concluded that the interpretation and enforcement of UK immigration laws have caused serious harm to Commonwealth citizens from former British colonies. In light of the criticisms, Wendy Williams asserts that the apology offered by the government will be measured by their forthcoming response due six months from the review's publication. Consequently, the conference on June 22nd will also explore how the WLLR intersects with the findings of the 2017 Race Disparity Audit which evidences racial disparities in criminal justice, health, education, community cohesion and work.
"The Windrush Scandal is far from over, in fact it is becoming more scandalous in that the efforts that have been made so far to right the wrongs to the Windrush Generation as they have put it have been patronising, inadequate and more words than action. Unless there are drastic changes the injustices will continue" - Leonie Brown, Co-Founder of Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C
For this next stage of burning work, the Windrush Defenders digital forum aims to begin coordinating research on a new legal framework which supports those working to tackle racial disparities and the implementation of the recommendations from Wendy Williams Windrush Lessons Learned Review. On June 22nd, Windrush Defenders commissioned Channels Research Group to research, construct and facilitate the forthcoming digital forum along these lines of inquiry. At this online event, guest speakers will first situate the case of Windrush within its historical context, followed by a Q and A on the Windrush Scheme and Compensation schemes by the Government's Director of the Windrush, Asylum, Immigration and Citizenship taskforce. Interspersed with music from the Men of Sound project at WISSC, participants will then have the option of breaking out into five digital rooms where guest speakers will address the intersecting themes of education, health, work, criminal justice & community cohesion. Attendees will then regroup to feedback, and finally listen to a presentation on a forward vision for the next Burning Work digital forum.
Research + Writer, Christxpher Oliver, Channels Research Group
Research + Editor, Jerome Bond , Channels Research Group
Research + Editor, Leonie Brown, Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C
Testimony - Anthony Brown, Lorna Downer + Leonie Brown from Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C
Conference Director - Sara-Louise Burke, Channels Research Group
Creative Designer - George Brown, Channels Research Group
Editorial contributions - Véronique Belinga
Registration details + further information
"d'bi young anitafrika"
"Contesting the Design of Justice"
"Judged on Criminality, not Nationality"
"Race + Citizenship"
"Britain as the spoils of empire"