Bettina Wallace: Voices from Nottingham's Windrush Generation

Video: Curtis Powell
Photos: Curtis Powell
Interview: Jared Wilson and Curtis Powell
Sunday 08 October 2023
reading time: min, words

To celebrate Black History Month and the 75th anniversary of Windrush we have been working with the New Art Exchange and their NAE YOUnity Commission funded by Freelands Foundation. Our aim is to highlight the voices of Nottingham's Windrush generation and some of the challenges they faced...


I came to Nottingham with my sister in 1962 as a nine year old girl. I’d lived with my grandmother in Jamaica up until then. I remember her taking us to the airport and trying to keep me calm. I was so young I had no concept of how far away we were going and that she wouldn’t be coming with me. 

My parents had come over to the UK before us. My dad came over in 1958 and my mother in 1960, so I remembered my mother but didn’t really know my father. It was interesting and took a bit of getting used to. When I first saw this tall dark man at the airport I didn’t believe he was really my dad.

Although we left a community in Jamaica, it felt like we moved into a new and different community here. I remember that when we first arrived people came out on the streets to meet us. We lived in Lenton and I went to the primary school there. My father was one of the first black men in our community to buy a house and I was proud of him for that. Although some of our parents might have travelled around the city for work, we didn’t go far. My neck of the woods was the Savoy Cinema side of Derby Road and although we played out all the time, the furthest I was allowed to go was the library on Lenton Boulevard. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I knew where Radford, Hyson Green or the Meadows were. 

School life was okay, but sometimes problematic. I’m a typical Jamaican girl and when I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying I'd put my hand up and ask a question. They didn’t always like that and thought I was being cheeky, but the education system just wasn’t set up for kids like us. History was boring because we weren’t taught anything about our own history.

I’ve always lived in Nottingham and never wanted to move. I’ve had my children here and they’ve had their own children here, too - I’ve got five grandchildren in total. The passport I came over here with said inside it that the Queen offered us safe travel to England. For a while I thought of myself as a British citizen born under that commonwealth flag. That all started to change after Enoch Powell did his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. Around the age of twenty I decided to apply for a British passport, I was denied and I felt betrayed. So then I went through the naturalisation process and got a passport that way instead. I now class myself as a British Jamaican as I have dual nationality.

Bettina 1

The education system just wasn’t set up for kids like us. History was boring because we weren’t taught anything about our own history

As I started to get older and raise my own family I moved to St Ann’s. A lot of people think that if you’re black and from St Ann’s you’re either a drug dealer, a prostitute or a pimp. But there have always been a lot of nice families there. I’ve got a starter plot at the St Ann’s Allotments now and it’s a really lovely space. It’s also surprising how fertile the ground is. I don’t use anything other than the soil and I’ve grown runner beans, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, wild rocket, quinoa and Jamaican pumpkins.

Health has become important to me and over the last decade I've been diagnosed with high-blood pressure, a leaky heart valve and, most recently, breast cancer. But I've always been keen to get everything tested and checked. A lot of other folks in our community have said things to me like, “I put my trust in God to keep me well”, but my take on that is that God has given us doctors and medicine, so I don’t see why that means we shouldn’t use them. 

I think overall society has changed for the better for younger Black people in Britain over the years. There’s a lot more going to university and I'm blown away when I meet a young black person in their thirties with a doctorate. This is thanks to the struggles that their parents and grandparents have gone through to get over here and build a life. There will still be discrimination, but I'm confident that today’s young people have the knowledge and the vocabulary to be able to cope with it better than we were able to. 


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