A report by J. H. Lewis for the Nottingham Post.
Caribbean culture is being permanently etched into the history of Nottingham thanks to the pioneering work of the social history and community heritage organisation Museumand.
The name tells the story. Archive and objects are all-important but there is more: this is a museum without walls, whose treasures are being unearthed in places as different as Brickyard community centre and the studios of city-based Notts TV.
Three generations of Nottingham’s Caribbean community were represented at a creative session at Brickyard in St Ann’s, where Museumand personnel were helping to tease stories out of their personal histories.
These are accounts intended for a permanent record but they may also be discussed in the TV show Caribbean Conversations, the Monday series on Notts TV in which Museumand founder Catherine Ross hosts conversations with local people who are either from the West Indies or are descended from West Indian immigrants.
“We can tell the stories of these people’s experiences that wouldn’t normally be published,” says Catherine, a retired English teacher who came to the UK from St Kitts and who now heads Museumand, once known as SKN Heritage Museum and whose more formal name is the National Caribbean Heritage Museum.
“We would like to record the hopes and dreams of those who came here from the Caribbean and how they felt at the time, and compare their experiences with those of the second and third generations.”
Catherine’s point is that if these stories are not recorded for posterity they will be forgotten as successive generations of descendants of the so-called Empire Windrush generation – those who arrived with one suitcase per passenger aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948 – become ever more anglicised.
The TV series Caribbean Conversations is exploring eight different aspects of Caribbean culture. Guests at each episode are encouraged to bring items to illustrate the topic of conversation for that edition and add to the museum’s collection.
Viewers are invited to contact the museum should they want to tell their story or donate items for discussion. To be a part of the conversation and have your say on each topic, log on to www.museumand.org for Caribbean Conversations Take 2.
At Brickyard, Jacienth Thomas dictates her story to Catherine Ross. It concerns her annual visits to her island of origin, Jamaica. She came to England as a teenager in 1954 and worked in hospitals in London and Bristol before raising a family in Peterborough with her husband James.
Now widowed, Mrs Thomas was persuaded to move to Nottingham to be near two of her five sons. “I love going back to Jamaica for a holiday every year,” she says, recalling how last year she hired a car and driver to give her a tour of her parish, “but I’m glad I came over in the first place. You have to see how the other half lives!”
Across the hall, Lenny Quantro, 57, from Rise Park and 41-year-old O’Niel Simms, from Broxtowe are listening to Hubert Graham. He looks too young to be 86 and there is something similar about his features. In them you can see the face of his son Herol “Bomber” Graham, one of the best boxers ever to come out of Nottingham.
Did Hubert ever have to box Herol about the ears? Probably not, but the two younger men say his generation represents a dying tradition in Caribbean families. Loving fathers who laid down the law and insisted on children doing their bit for the household.
On the islands, explains Mr Simms, livestock animals are treasured family possessions and after school, sons would be drilled in helping look after them: “You’d come home for lunch and feed and water them. Then you would go back to school and, at the end of the day, clean out the yard. That was before you did anything else.”
Mr Quantro adds: “My chores were different because I was born here. But I’d still have to help clean the house and tidy up. It was a way of life and today’s kids don’t seem to have that sort of discipline.”
He remains aware of the challenges facing the Windrush generation. For one thing there was the cold. For another, the lack of familiar music. Caribbean music got precious little air time in the 1940s and 1950s. Visitors from the Caribbean had one major request from their UK cousins: bring some records.
Footnote: You can watch Caribbean Conversations on Mondays at 4pm. For more about Museumand, visit www.museumand.org