Encyclopedias, my family and me: Growing up under the loving eaves of Windrush

Photo of Sandra as a toddler
Photo of Sandra as a toddler

“We didn’t know any difference, to be honest”


“It wasn’t until I went to senior school in Year 7, that I met children who had the benefit of a Caribbean childhood. Moving from lower school to the upper site (Loxford), was a complete culture shock. The only things we had in common was having the same skin colour”.


Sandra, the oldest of five siblings grew up in Ilford, East London during the 1960’s and 1970’s to parents of the Windrush generation.


Dad, D’Arcey Da Costa, now a retired welder for London transport, came over from Barbados on the 31st December 1955, in the shock of winter, and was followed by Mum, Sylvia Anita, now a retired skilled upholsterer for R.S Stevens, 6 months later.


It was tough at first “I only found out recently that dad was often homeless when he came over to London., it was hard to find accommodation, because of his skin colour”.


Darcy and Sylvia married in December 1956, when they were 19 and 22, respectively. They moved around from Brixton, to Stratford, Bow and Dagenham, eventually ending up in Ilford. “I remember living in a few addresses in Ilford, before we settled in the house, they live in today”.


“Dad got caught up in National Service, and he doesn’t like to talk about, it. He experienced a lot of racial abuse”. “He asked my  mum’s brother to come over and look after mum while he was in the army”.


Sandra was born in the early hours of August 1st 1959, although for some reason the birth ended up being registered as happening on July 31st.


“Education, education, education was extremely important” “Dad grew up in a strict family, when he learnt only British history at school. I told him about Bajan/Caribbean history”. “England was seen as the motherland, where there were opportunities for all citizens of the Empire to do well” “You followed the British way of doing things”. “Children were expected to work hard at their studies and be disciplined”. 


“Across the English-speaking Caribbean If you had had the opportunity to sit and pass the 11+, you were made. Educators were considered to be high status in the Caribbean”. “Students couldn’t move up unless they had passed all the learning objectives for that year. However, an 8-year-old with ability could be moved up to a class of 10-year olds.”


 “Teachers could never be wrong. This led in England to some situations where children entering the system suffered. Able, black children, didn’t have their needs met and were told off for coming across as not engaged or disruptive. Often excluded from class or categorised as requiring supplementary (now known as special needs education). The distinctions and nuances were never made clear to parents. My teachers were never seen as wrong, however I used my experiences to help my son, when he was at school”.


 “I started nursery school early, as the head knew and liked my mum and could see I was ready. I did well at school, and was one of the top pupils in my class. I remember one day coming home to a set of encyclopedias. I was expected to read every volume, page by page”.


“Shortly, after my sixth birthday, I can see it now, I was given a can of cola in the front room, by the blue damask sofa and was told by my dad that he was going out, and when he returned, he wanted me to have learnt and be able to recite to him, without fail, the six to twelve times tables”.


“We grew up in a largely white residential area. I knew of 8 other black families in my block and another black family in the street where my family lived. We played with a couple of children down the street. We were expected to come straight home from school and leave any class friendships at school. Mum and dad wanted to protect us from the racial abuse they had experienced, and provide us with opportunities through education. The five of us children were seen as company enough”.


“When I was ten, my mum went back out to work, as I was expected to be home by four to let my siblings in and have the dinner prepared and ready for cooking, when my mum returned home at quarter to five”.

“After kid’s T.V. ended at six, I was expected to pick up a book and read”.


“Mum was skilled in needlework. She used to see an outfit in the shops, go to CH fabrics in Ilford and then run it up it the same or next day. It was usual for me to start the day with one outfit and then end up with another that she had made for me”.


“It was only after going to secondary school that I came across so many other black children, who were my age. I was suddenly aware of feeling so different. Many of these children had largely grown up in the Caribbean. A Caribbean that had changed since my mum and dad’s time. It had become less strict in terms of outlook, independence had changed perspectives. Also, I felt different as many of the black students spoke using Jamaican dialects and words, that I didn’t understand and I felt fearful. I had nothing in common with these students other than the colour of my skin. There was an awareness that these children had the confidence of knowing who they were, growing up in the freedoms of the Caribbean and being accepted where they grew up. It was a matter of identity, sense of confidence, and self-pride about your roots, a dual nationality”.


“I remember visiting Barbados when I was ten and noticing that many of the police, teachers, and bankers were white or had light skins. When I returned later to visit family with my young son, he was astounded to see lots of professional people who looked like him. He proudly carried out an interview with a family member who was a police commander for a school project on people we admire”.



“I am blessed by the efforts and sacrifices my parents made for us to have opportunities in Britain, I just wish they could have taken some more of those opportunities for themselves”.