THE Devon Windrush Flag was raised at County Hall today, Thursday, June 22, to mark 75 years since the Empire Windrush arrived in Tilbury Dock and its 492 passengers disembarked to begin a new life in Britain.

Members of the Celebrating Windrush in Devon group joined the Leader of Devon County Council (DCC) John Hart, DCC Chair Percy Prowse, Chief Executive Donna Manson, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Devon Philip Bostock OBE, and the Lord Mayor of Exeter Kevin Mitchell, for the flag-raising.

The event was a chance to pay tribute to the UK’s Caribbean community for their immense contribution, and to acknowledge that many of the Windrush generation suffered hardship, prejudice and abuse – experiences that unfortunately many of their descendants still experience today, including those living in Devon.

The flag raising was an opportunity to recognise that our county has become increasingly diverse over the last 10 years – and as a society we are all the better for it.

The number of Devonians who identify as either being Asian, Black and other ethnically diverse people, as a proportion of the population, has increased by 71 per cent between the 2011 Census and the 2021 Census.

In 2011 243,500 people, approximately 4.6 per cent of the population, identified as ethnically diverse people; 10 years later this has increased to 392,000 and 6.9 per cent of the population.

And many of our friends, neighbours, family members and colleagues at work are the direct descendants of those who, between 1948 and 1971, arrived from different Caribbean countries within the British Empire, as well as the Indian sub-continent, at the invitation of the UK Government to help rebuild a ruined post-war Britain.

People from countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent, Guyana, and Jamaica answered the call, with many working within our fledgling NHS, for Transport London and for National Railways.

It seems apt, therefore, that Windrush Day should also present a chance for DCC to check the progress of its own commitment to inclusivity - the Race Equality Action Plan.

At the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny committee earlier today councillors heard that DCC’s own commitment - to stamp out intolerance and develop a more inclusive culture within the Authority through its Race Equality Action Plan – is making good progress.

The action plan was put into place following recommendations from an internal audit last year to help us tackle “structural racism” within DCC.

Progress can be found on our website as part of our commitment to transparency, and progress is reported every six months to the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Committee.

At the committee, the progress report included:

• Improved support to staff who raise concerns and a new policy to resolve issues

• New wellbeing, recovery and resilience service for staff who have experienced racism from next month

• “Zero tolerance” approach when staff are racially abused 

• New Prayer and Contemplation facilities with improved disability access

• New Race Equality Staff Group and a Race Equality Delivery Group 

• Increase in the size of the equality, diversity and inclusion team and its budget 

• New anti-racism webpage with staff resources and information 

• Improved risk assessment to safeguard staff who work in the community from racism

• Staff encouraged to report racism and other forms of discrimination

• A new living in the UK course for international recruits through Learn Devon

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health, Communities and Equality, said: “I am pleased to join our friends from the Windrush in Devon Group to honour the half a million people who travelled to the UK after the Second World War to help Britain’s recovery.

“But they weren’t always treated with the respect that they deserved and I’m sorry to say that racism and prejudice is still a reality for many.

“Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and it is beholden on all of us to call out and actively challenge racist language and behaviour wherever we find it.

“We recognised that racism was a deep problem in society and that our organisation mirrored wider society and in some places it still exists.

“As a result, during 2021, we carried out a Race Equality Audit. We asked for an honest assessment, and the report wasn’t easy reading, but with the help of everyone in the council I’m pleased to say we are making progress.

“But we mustn’t be complacent and if we want to tackle ‘structural racism’ within DCC, which is part of the Council’s Strategic Plan, we still have much to do.”

Chair of DCC Percy Prowse, said: “The County Council is honoured to be raising the Devon Windrush flag for its third year.

“This day is a celebration of the enormous contribution made by, not only those who made that first voyage to Britain, but those who followed after, their children, and grandchildren.

“In marking Windrush Day we are not only grateful to those who took that leap of faith in 1948 to start a new life, but also, to the present day, our staff who have been recruited from overseas to help meet the demands in our health and social care system - continuing the legacy of those who shaped Britain post World War Two.

“In raising this flag, 75 years on, we are acknowledging the contribution made to this country and the county of Devon, the covert and overt racism that people have endured, and we are embracing the richness of multicultural diversity in Britain.”

At the County Hall event the Devon’s Caribbean and non-white community was represented by The Celebrating Windrush in Devon group which is part of Devon Development Education (DDE), an education charity.

They work with schools and communities to help people have a better understanding of our diverse different cultures and promote understanding and inclusivity.

DDE offers anti-racism programmes in schools, training to teachers and equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy to organisations and promote tolerance and inclusivity.

Anne Madray, a member of the Devon Windrush Group, who is of Jamaican heritage, said: “It’s important to tell the Windrush story to people in Exeter and Devon to help them make sense of our lives - why certain events happened and the way they did.

“It is important to celebrate our different heritages such as Windrush as it promotes awareness of cultural diversity. It can help you learn about yourself, your family and your ancestors. And in doing so it can help you to understand other cultures.”

Krish Madray, a member of the Devon Windrush Group, is English with Guyanese heritage – his father came from Guyana to Penzance as a professional cricketer and Krish was born in the UK.

A training consultant for social care homes, he is one of the organisers of the Windrush 75 Caribbean Cricket Festival in Exmouth on 27th August and said: “As I live in Devon, not known for diverse communities, I hope the celebrations will bring awareness and appreciation of what Windrush generations and Caribbean people have contributed to the South West – and in particular cricket, an essential part of Devon and West Indies culture.”

Sandhya Dave, is Co-ordinator of DDE's Cultural Champions programme. Cultural Champions are Devon residents from a different culture, faith or tradition to the majority, who visit schools and community groups to talk about their lives.

She said: “We really want to challenge that Devon is not a diverse place and highlight our Caribbean and Windrush community. We want to educate and raise public awareness about Windrush 75 and the positive and amazing contributions people make and have made to Devon. We also want to have fun!”