A memorial plaque honouring campaigner Paulette Wilson has been unveiled on the Wolverhampton building that used to house Enoch Powell’s constituency office, as part of a commemoration ceremony to mark Windrush Day.
Wilson, who died unexpectedly last year, aged 64, was one of the most vocal critics of the government over the Windrush scandal. In 2015 the former House of Commons canteen worker was misclassified by the Home Office as an illegal immigrant, and was twice arrested, before being detained and booked on to a flight back to Jamaica, the country where she was born, but had not visited in 49 years.
Several people affected by the scandal travelled to Wilson’s home town to witness the unveiling, including Anthony Bryan, Glenda Caesar and Michael Braithwaite, all of whose lives were badly affected when they were miscategorised as immigration offenders by the Home Office. Wilson’s daughter Natalie Barnes, who has also campaigned to get the government to recognise its Windrush mistakes, said: “My mum just wanted to help others and get justice. I shall continue the fight until the lessons learned are put right.”
Campaigner Patrick Vernon who raised money for the plaque said: “This was the former constituency office of Enoch Powell MP where he wrote his speech Rivers of Blood the same year, 1968, when Paulette arrived in Wolverhampton as a 10-year-old. The reclaiming of this building by the community and the installation of the plaque reminds us of the poetic justice of history and social change.”
Wolverhampton South West Conservative MP Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet over the speech which outlined his concerns about the arrival of West Indian children in his constituency.
Sandra Samuels, deputy mayor of Wolverhampton, said Wilson was well loved and respected in the community. “Paulette loved coming to the centre to meet friends and to socialise so this is the ideal place to have this plaque,” she said.
The government’s decision in 2018 to give a £500,000 annual grant for Windrush Day celebrations as part of its attempts to apologise for the immigration scandal has had a mixed reception among those affected. A widespread desire to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants is tempered for some by a sense that the occasion is designed to distract from the continuing difficulties with the Windrush compensation programme and from the Home Office’s failure to implement the wholesale cultural reform promised in the wake of the scandal.
The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, said: “The Windrush generation and their descendants have had – and continue to have – a profound impact on Britain’s social, cultural and economic life. This year the continued contribution of Windrush descendants has been felt as deeply as ever, with British-Caribbean communities coming to the fore to support our nation through their incredible contributions to the NHS, councils and every other part of public life.”