Members of the Windrush generation and the African-Caribbean community in East Staffordshire are going to be given the highest honour by the borough council, as a mark of “heartfelt gratitude” to their contribution to the area.
As the UK marks the start of Black History Month, local members of the Windrush community and their families will be given freedom of the borough status – the highest award a council can give – at an extraordinary council meeting on Monday.
The rarely used accolade – which has only been awarded six times by the council in the last 25 years, and only 20 times since 1912 – will be given in recognition of the Borough’s Windrush generation and “its exceptional contribution to life in Burton upon Trent and beyond”, it said.
Monica Holton, the first black woman to become an East Staffordshire councillor when she was elected in May, said the community – including her parents – had endured racism and hardship when they arrived in the UK and when many were detained and deported under the Windrush scandal.
“Despite all this, I see a community that remains united and ever stronger, a community whose culture is embedded and influential in every part of the UK,” she said.
Seeing those like her parents – who she said had contributed “36 exemplary years’ service” to Bass Brewery and the NHS – being given “heartfelt gratitude and sincere thanks” made her “immensely proud”, she said.
The move was “bittersweet” after the loss of her parents but she said the honour “meant everything” to her: “It means their bravery, their courage and their determination has not been in vain.”
Keith Channer, a pastor who was among those who came to the UK from Caribbean during the 1960s and 70s, has talked previously about the racism he suffered after arriving in the UK in 1960.
He recalled working on a construction site and being targeted by a digger driver who used the digger to hit timber he was carrying off his shoulder and said to him: “You better go back to your jungle.”
He told the Derby Telegraph that after he had become a pastor and relocated his church to a mainly white area in the 90s he had been subjected to abuse, including having his car tyres slashed.
But, in advance of the ceremony to mark the honouring of his generation in East Staffordshire, he said he and his family had “no regrets” about moving to the area and had found the people “very warm and welcoming”.
“We live alongside neighbours that for the most part we are quite happy with,” he said. “We also feel that after over 42 years we can say that East Staffordshire is a great place to live.”
Michael Fitzpatrick, the leader of the council, said the council wanted to acknowledge the contributions of the local African-Caribbean community over the past 75 years. “I can think of no better way to celebrate the Windrush generation and its lineage than by granting them this prestigious award,” he said.