British Library launches Windrush Stories online learning resource

Front cover of The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon. © By permission of the Estate of Sam Selvon.
Front cover of The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon
© By permission of the Estate of Sam Selvon

Britain’s national library is launching Windrush Stories, a free educational web resource that marks 70 years since the arrival of Empire Windrush, to coincide with Black History Month.

It features new writing and digitised archive material, and reflects on the relationship between Britain and the Caribbean. It also showcases a range of voices from the Windrush generation and beyond.

The British Library’s Windrush Stories is dedicated to exploring the experiences and struggles of migrants in the mid-20th century within a larger narrative, examining the ways in which they have shaped British society and culture.

From the evolution of Black British literature and music to stories of activism and reflections on the Windrush generation scandal, the resource offers many perspectives for learners of all ages.

Along with newly commissioned writing from the likes of David Lammy MP, Andrea Levy, Hannah Lowe and Floella Benjamin, there will also be extensive archive material, including photographs, posters and notebooks.

Notable items include:

  • Manuscripts of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island, kindly lent by the author, together with a postcard of the Empire Windrush purchased on board by her father
  • Notes and drafts relating to Windrush Songs by Jamaican poet and writer James Berry, whose archive was acquired by the Library in 2012
  • A letter from Vincent Reid in 1968 who, at the age of 13, was the youngest person on board the Empire Windrush and went on to become a pioneering teacher of Caribbean and African history.
  • Users can view a new film inspired by the exhibition, featuring members of the Caribbean Social Forum sharing their stories of journeying from the Caribbean to the UK. It was created as part of a partnership community project between the British Library, Caribbean Social Forum and South London’s Chocolate Films.
Front cover by Denis Williams for The Emigrants by George Lamming. © Denis Williams Estate.
Front cover by Denis Williams for The Emigrants by George Lamming
© Denis Williams Estate

All of the literary material from the web space will also be available on Discovering Literature, the British Library’s online learning resource.

The web space accompanies the British Library’s free exhibition, Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land, which has received more visits from school learners than any other British Library Entrance Hall exhibition in recent years.

The exhibition closes on 21 October.

Alex Whitfield, head of learning programmes at the British Library, said: “This new web space will open up our collections and the impassioned and insightful new writing we have commissioned to a wide audience.

“It is absolutely right that the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition should have a lasting legacy online and we hope this resource sparks debate, discussion and reflection.”

Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website –– each year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and more than 40 million pages.