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Selfies and Stories from Hackney’s Windrush Generation

POSTED: 03 March 2021

Celebrating a legacy

2019 feels like a lifetime ago, when community photography projects at bustling town hall celebrations were both possible and safe. We’ve been sifting through some of the remarkable images that have come out of Autograph’s collaborations with our local community in Hackney, including these selfies taken with The Real Selfie Project at the borough’s Windrush Generations Festival on Windrush Day, 22 June 2019.

The Real Selfie Project was set up in 2017 by photographer Rafael Hortala-Vallve and filmmaker Nick Francis, with the intention of taking their analogue photobooth from the 1970s on tour, to capture portraits and collect personal stories of their local community. Like us, Rafael and Nick are based in Hackney, and feel passionately about contributing to the visual and archival story of our borough. According to Hackney Council “it’s believed the borough is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of the Windrush generation, and many more from Commonwealth countries across the globe”. So, we partnered with The Real Selfie Project to bring the photobooth to Stoke Newington Town Hall, for Hackney’s annual celebration of the Windrush Generation.

The selfies are now part of Hackney Archives, where they will continue to contribute to future framings of the borough’s rich histories. Keep scrolling to see some of the photographs taken and read four of the Windrush Elders’ stories.


Between 1948 to 1971, successive British governments invited thousands of people from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to relocate to Britain to address labour shortages following the Second World War. They were named the ‘Windrush generation’ after the ship HMT Empire Windrush on which the first group arrived. Windrush Day was established in 2018 in the wake of a national scandal in which many hundreds of people, who had been living in the UK for decades, were unable to prove their legal immigration status following the implementation of the British government’s new hostile environment policy. As a result, many members of the Windrush generation were denied access to benefits, healthcare, social housing and employment, while others were forcibly detained or deported.

"We have contributed so much to the economy and to the reconstruction of England"

Age: 79. Place of birth: Grenada. Arrived in the UK: 1960.

"The Windrush is the boat that brought Caribbeans to England three years after the Second World War. They brought us here to rebuild the broken infrastructure of the country. And as a first and second generation from Caribbean background, we have contributed so much to the economy and to the reconstruction of England. I came to England when I was 20 years old, as an aspiring young man from Grenada. I came here for a better standard of living. Having heard of all the iconic buildings, for example London Bridge, The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and of course, the River Thames, I looked forward coming to England. I knew more about England than I knew about my own country - because we learnt about Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves.

No one told me about the conditions or the weather what’s going to be like, or the exclusiveness. When we came as people of the Caribbean, with a different colour, different ideology, different outlook, we were not accepted as such. For example, when we wanted a place to live, we’d go to a home and said is there any rental here in this home? All that you would see on the door is ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. What came to me is that we were not needed here. We really endured to get ourselves together and decided to work. We all decided to work for five years earn enough money and go back and build a mansion, but it did not work like that I’m afraid. I’ve been here for over 58 years."

"I've worked all my life in Hackney, I'm a Hackney person"

Age: 66. Place of birth: Montserrat.

"I remember coming over from Montserrat and I remember coming on the boat. I was seven years old and I’m 66 now. I’ve worked all my life in Hackney, I’m a Hackney person. I remember my school days and I remember how it was in the Sixties. It was good and it was bad. I remember the snow, the furnishings, going shopping. The Windrush were brought in because they needed help in Britain. They needed help to clear Britain up but now that it’s cleared up they want to throw us out again. So I think that is wrong. The Windrush are part of the Caribbean, so we should be accepted as we are."

Age: 90. Place of birth: Barbados. Arrived in the UK: 1955.

"I’ve been living in Hackney since 1958. I came here in February 1955. People said, that you will get on with people in this country. I remember I came on a Thursday, I tried to get a job – I was a tailor and the man said to me, 'we don’t want any West Indian’s here – we cannot give you a job'. I said that if I’m a good tailor I should get the job. I showed him, and then I got the job. We became friends."

"We just take one day at a time. And for 71, I think we are doing very well for ourselves"

Place of birth: Trinidad. Arrived in the UK: 1966 / 1969.

Gloria: Both Valerie and myself came from Trinidad. I came here in 1966 on the SS Antilles to do nursing. I came to Portsmouth and I arrived on the boat, 8 o’clock in the morning, expecting to find my uncle waiting for me. No uncle, he turned up three weeks after I got there. So I travelled from Southampton to Chadwell Heath hospital in Essex – no coat, freezing cold on the 7th October 1966. And I reached the hospital around 4pm in the afternoon and the matron said to me, 'Who brought me?' I said, 'I brought myself'. I had no money. In those days you used to have to send a telegram back home so I was in this country for how many weeks and my parents didn’t even know that I had arrived.

Valerie: "I came on BOAC, it was an airline – the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I was 18 and I came into nursing. I went to Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. I arrived here on Christmas Eve day, 1969.

The Windrush generation set the standards for us who followed them. They are the ones who really had the hardest time. Because when I came, I went into a nurse’s home. I think I was cushioned. When I hear about people saying ‘no dogs, no children, no blacks’, I never had that experience because I always been in a cushioned environment. I really pull off my hat to people like my aunt and uncle who came, used to live in one room with three children, sharing a cooker on the landing. It’s hard to get your head around that sort of situation."

Gloria: I was 18 when I came – a sweet teenager. Now I’m 71. I’m a happy pensioner. Valerie and I go on cruises, we go out together. We are just having a good time until the good Lord is ready for us. We just take one day at a time. And for 71, I think we are doing very well for ourselves.


Read the E-Book

See some more of  the photographs taken and read more of the Windrush Elders’ stories


A Call to Care: Pamela Franklin

How have Caribbean elders been connecting online during Covid-19? We spoke to Pamela Franklyn at the Caribbean Social Forum to find out


Journeys to Hope

Sharing the journey of the Windrush generation before, during and after arriving in the UK

View gallery

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With thanks to The Real Selfie Project and Hackney Council for their support in making this project happen.

Top banner images: 1) Deloris Francis and Nobert Edward, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 2) Inez Clarke, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 3) Joseph Russell, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 4) Sherlene Barker, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 5) Edwin Bailey and Lucy Rayside, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project

Images on page: 6) Bishop Elon Charles, 2019. 
Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 7) Bernice O'Garro, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 8) Joseph Russell, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 9) Gloria and Valerie, 2019.  Courtesy The Real Selfie Project

Bottom banner images: 10) Althea Russell, 2019. 
Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 11) Trevor Stewart, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project 12) Joy Allen, 2019. Courtesy The Real Selfie Project