In the weeks leading up to Windrush Day today, we’ve heard all kinds of inspiring stories of the challenges that generation faced and the challenges they overcame. Those that stepped off the HMT Windrush at Tilbury docks that day – and those that followed– have made a massive contribution to Britain across all areas of national life. This includes business, sports, entertainment and politics.
But closer to home, there’s one less well-known contribution: the role of members of the Windrush Generation as leading figures in the credit union movement in the UK. It’s a lesser-known story of communities coming together to find a way through discrimination and hardship which continues to inspire credit unions like ours today.
The Historical Journey of the HMT Empire Windrush
On 22 June 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks with 492 men, women, and families from the Caribbean. It wasn’t the first ship from the Caribbean to bring people here to start a new life. But it was one of the largest and earliest. Windrush came to represent an era of migration which would see tens of thousands of people start new lives here. They, and those that came after them, became known collectively as the ‘Windrush Generation.’
Many of those on board were eager to start a new life in Britain. They were responding to adverts calling for help relieving labour shortages in Britain after the War. And, of course, they brought with them dreams of their own. Many aspired to own a house, send their children to school, and even open their own businesses.
Confronting Adversity: Overcoming Barriers on the Path to Equality
Despite these high hopes, many of the Windrush Generation confronted discrimination and barriers in daily life. This included the banking system. There were cases of explicit racism. Some were denied loans or bank accounts or unfairly charged higher rates of interest than other people. But just as often, the discrimination was structural. Many experienced a banking system that was poorly equipped to serve their needs. Many faced financial exclusion, as they struggled to obtain mortgages or loans to start businesses. Often the reason given was their lack of credit history in the UK. But a lack of understanding and stereotypes also played their part as well.
Hope for the Future: The Birth of UK Co-operative Credit Unions
As early as 1964, some of the Windrush Generation were resolving to do something about the financial exclusion many in their communities faced. At Ferme Park Baptist Church in Hornsey, ten members of the congregation founded Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union to provide fair savings and loans to its members, no matter their race or financial situation. They were inspired by credit unions and savings clubs they had left behind in their native Jamaica, and other examples across North America and the Caribbean.
For their members, credit unions enabled them to travel home to see friends or relatives, start businesses or fit out their homes. Building savings gave them the resilience to continue in unexpected situations like illness or unemployment. And perhaps just more importantly, as co-operatives, the credit union provided opportunities to build community and to keep people together. When many must have felt isolated in a new country, credit unions offered a source of solidarity and support.
Many other communities followed. Credit unions were founded by others from the Caribbean as well as Irish and other communities. Later on, credit unions expanded to serve specific workplaces or whole boroughs, including London Mutual, which was founded in 1982 as Southwark Employees Credit Union. In the decades since, credit unions have continued to grow.
Continuing the Legacy: The Windrush Generation’s Impact on Credit Unions Today
People who were part of the Windrush Generation and their children and grandchildren continue to play an important role in credit unions across the country. This includes here at London Mutual. Across the UK, credit unions continue to have a well-deserved reputation for serving those left behind by the big banks. This includes newer arrivals to the UK and those fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
We continue to work to live up to the legacy of the Windrush Generation and the example they set for us. Ultimately, the lesson is that when people work together and support one another, we all achieve greater success, including our own inspiring stories to tell one day.