Nigel Best: Voices from Nottingham's Windrush Generation

Photos: Curtis Powell
Interview: Jared Wilson and Curtis Powell
Friday 06 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 over to the UK in 1966 as an eight-year-old boy from Barbados. My dad had originally come over in 1959 and then my mother came over in 1960 or 1961 and they got married soon after they came here. Before I came over I was living with my Grandma.

I remember getting on the plane and then meeting my parents at Heathrow airport. I remember feeling really cold when I landed, I’d never worn a coat before. I was used to finishing school and running across the road to the beach to play with friends. So it was quite a culture shock at first and I must have cried for about a month thinking, “Where am I?”

We lived in Kilburn in London and I grew up and went to school there, which helped me to settle. One of the first things my mother said to me was that if you’re from the Caribbean you’ll get put in the bottom groups at school. Schools did this automatically. Thankfully she complained to the school and so they gave me a test, which I passed with flying colours and put me up to the top groups.

My brother is six years younger than me and was born over here. When we were growing up he suffered lots with chest problems like asthma and skin problems like eczema and got really ill. So they decided to take him back to Barbados and it cleared up within a couple of weeks. It tells you a lot about the Caribbean in the fresh air and different diet over there and he made the decision to stay over there permanently after that. 

Nigel Best 6

Obviously Black people had come over here before then, but perhaps not in such numbers and I don’t think the UK was ready for it

I’ve been back to Barbados a lot, over twenty times since I left. I try to go back every year and I’ve had kids of my own over here and always tried to take them back over so they understand a bit about the Caribbean and so they could get to know their grandparents. They’ve all made interesting lives for themselves over here and I'm proud of what they have achieved.

Windrush is an important part of the history of the UK. Obviously Black people had come over here before then, but perhaps not in such numbers and I don’t think the UK was ready for it. The government here had put out a call, but I think they under-estimated the take-up they’d had because Jamaica had just been battered by hurricanes and employment was low. However, for 28 pounds and two shillings you could get on this ship and people expected the streets to be paved with gold and opportunity. It was a lot of money for some, but it was an achievable amount for many. The hardest thing for people once they were here was to find accommodation as there wasn’t enough of it. It led to tensions between different communities who didn’t understand what had happened and thus to racism.

I’ve made my life here in Nottingham. I’ve been a DJ, worked in nightclubs and bars, been a teacher, a cafe owner, a postman and I'm now a police careers advisor and trainer with Nottinghamshire police. Five or six months ago I was asked to write a black history programme for Notts police training after all the issues of racism within the Met Police. As part of that I do a quiz highlighting the contributions of Black people to western society, like Garrett Morgan who invented the traffic light and the gas mask, Claudia Jones who pioneered the carnival and Lewis Latimer who worked on air conditioning and alongside Thomas Edison on light bulbs and Alexander Bell on the telephone. There are all great people in history that many people don’t know about. There’s a lot to tackle in terms of people’s perceptions of the police in society, but I'd like to try and encourage young people - and in particular young black people - to try and help change the system from within. 


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