Black History Month has been celebrated every October in the UK since 1987, and carves out important time to acknowledge and learn more about Black British history.
Here, we revisit three projects we’ve funded over the decades fighting for racial justice. Looking back at the history of our grant making in this space reveals hidden stories of London’s impactful change-makers - including Black caseworkers supporting new arrivals in the 1950s, a thriving Black cultural hub in 1970s Islington, and a women-led support organisation in the 1980s.
Many of the issues being worked on, like housing and migration, remain a core focus of our work today.
1954: Case workers to support the Windrush generation
An early Citizens Advice Bureau
In the 1950s, the Windrush generation was taking root in London. Large numbers of Caribbean residents were making London their home – particularly in Brixton, Notting Hill, and East London. These new arrivals needed support.
Housing was a particular issue. Caribbean migrants were often discriminated against, and many landlords refused to house Black tenants. When they did find accommodation, they often had to pay much higher rents than the national average.
In 1954, we funded a project set up by the Family Welfare Association – now called Family Action - to appoint three Black case workers to support people across London. It was felt that employing Caribbean caseworkers would be beneficial, as they would better understand the cultural context the new arrivals were coming from.
Housing was a particular issue. Caribbean migrants were often discriminated against, and many landlords refused to house Black tenants.
Three caseworkers were appointed: a Mr Albert Hyndman, from Trinidad, R W St Clair-Charles, also from Trinidad, and R C Rattray, a 25-year old law student from Jamaica. The work of these three men and the others involved in the project helped new arrivals from the Caribbean to navigate their new surroundings, working through issues such as housing and employment.
More than 4,000 Caribbean residents were seen at a new Citizens Advice Bureau in South Lambeth, set up as part of the project. The project was successful enough that it inspired a similar project in Bristol, supported by the Dulverton Trust.
1972: Britain’s first Afro-Caribbean community arts centre
A 1974 Flyer advertises an all night Kesidee Carnival ‘Jump Up’
In the early 1970s, our grants increasingly supported London’s growing Black communities. One grant was to the Keskidee Trust, helping the Trust pay off a loan used to buy a property on Gifford Street in Islington to set up an arts centre.
The centre was set up by Guyanese-born architect Oscar Winston Abrams. Throughout the 1970s the centre became a thriving cultural venue, and for several years it was the only place to experience Black theatre in London.
During its time, it was visited by Bob Marley and Nina Simone. It was also an important cultural space for Islington’s Black teenagers, and for political discussion.
In 1992, the centre closed for good and was sold off. Four years later, Oscar Abrams died at the age of 58. In 2011, a plaque was unveiled at the site by David Lammy MP.
Linton Kwesi Johnson – an important dub-poet and activist – said of Oscar:
Oscar should be remembered as someone who made a tremendous contribution to the development of arts and culture in this country from the black community as proved. Someone who provided a space, he allowed us to make a contribution in terms of the arts.
Learn more about the centre in Islington History Centre’s piece here.
1980s: Africa Women’s Welfare Association (AYOKA Project)
Black History Month 2023 - Saluting our Sisters
The theme for this year’s Black History Month is ‘Saluting our Sisters’, highlighting the crucial, but often overlooked, role that Black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change, and building communities. One group that deserves to be recognised is the Africa Women's Welfare Association.
By the late 1980s, racial justice and race relations were becoming a priority. Throughout this time, we began to fund large numbers of advice services for Black Londoners, such as a grant for MIND in Tower Hamlets to employ Black liaison officers.
The women of the congregation formed the organisation because “women have most of the problems.”
In the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, we provided a number of grants to the African Women’s Welfare Association, AYOKA project.
AWWA was set up in 1983 to support the Minister of the Celestial Church of Christ with the huge volume of requests for help being received. The women of the congregation formed the organisation because “women have most of the problems.” They wanted to provide a centre for advice, to promote confidence and educate African women.
By 1988, the centre had a membership of 118 and was self-supporting. The team helped members with immigration and nationality forms, worked with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, provided emergency accommodation to homeless women and children, and helped people into work. As they expanded, they looked for new sources of funding: in 1988, we funded a full-time outreach worker.
Many other African women support organisations were working, and expanding, at this time. For example, a year later in 1989 we provided a grant to the African Women's Support Group Southwark.
Funding racial justice work today
We remain committed to our racial justice work, and last year launched a new dedicated £4m fund for this in partnership with City Bridge Foundation. We strongly believe that there can be no racial justice without economic justice, and that’s why the focus of the fund is on increasing economic empowerment in London’s Black and minoritised commmunities. Find out more about this work here.