Windrush project 'racism' claims leads Sheffield group to suggest withdrawing from initiative

An organisation which launched an initiative encouraging Sheffield’s Windrush generation to share their stories and experiences has suggested it leaves the project after claims its appointment was ‘upholding institutional racism’.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 4:15 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th June 2021, 7:52 pm

Community arts organisation Ignite Imaginations launched Remember Windrush this week, but the project was met with criticism for being run by a predominantly white organisation – with some arguing that other groups in the city would be far better placed to deliver it.

Criticism was also made about the charity accepting funding from the council for the project, which was specifically awarded to organisations to enhance Sheffield’s Windrush archive.

A total of £15,000 was awarded to Sheffield Council as part of the Windrush Day Grant 2020, and part of this is reported to have gone to Ignite Imaginations.

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Remember Windrush hoped to share stories and experiences from Sheffield's Windrush generation. Picture from 22nd June 1948 of Jamaicans reading a newspaper whilst on board the ex-troopship 'Empire Windrush' bound for Tilbury docks in Essex. (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

Annalisa Toccara, founder of Our Mel – a group dedicated to exploring cultural identity, black history and what it means to be a person of colour in Britain today – said on Twitter that the council was “upholding institutional racism” by funding Ignite Imaginations to run the project. She also added that Ignite had been “complicit in upholding institutional racism” in taking part.

She added that there were eight black organisations which between them had the capacity to put a Windrush campaign together.

Ignite Imaginations has now issued a statement offering to withdraw from the project.

The group said: “We’re grateful to have had drawn to our attention some issues relating to the Remember Windrush project, part of which Ignite Imaginations are running on behalf of Sheffield City Council and supported by the Church Urban Fund. Our role has been to encourage sharing of stories from the Windrush generation, for them to be added to Sheffield Archives.

“In particular, the criticism is that, as an organisation whose staff, board and artists are mostly white, we should neither have been offered, nor accepted, funding for a project about Windrush. We wholeheartedly support the view that stories about black experience are best gathered, looked after, and retold by people from those communities.

"Equally, when those communities express concern about the way in which their history is being captured or conveyed, we believe that it is vital their voices are heard and understood and that we respond appropriately.

“For this reason we have gladly accepted the offer of further dialogue with those who wrote to us and we hope that these conversations will not just ensure that this project is delivered more appropriately, but also help us to become an organisation that better represents the communities of Sheffield.

"This project is an opportunity that we grasped, with great enthusiasm, because of our eagerness to collaborate more closely with black communities within the city and because we want to work with and for the full range of people in the city. As has rightly been pointed out, however, we should be seeking to do so through partnerships with others.”

The organisation said that as a result, and in advance of more detailed discussions with black Caribbean communities and subject to agreement with Sheffield Council, it suggested that the outstanding budget be offered to black and black-led organisations to deliver the project goals; Ignite Imaginations continues to work alongside them on the project, unpaid; and those who had raised the issues be invited to join an expert advisory group on a paid basis to support Ignite Imagination’s organisational development.

The group added: “Our hope is that further collaboration along these lines will help us to engage with all of Sheffield’s communities and gratefully accept any assistance that helps us to achieve this. It is only by doing so that we will be able to deliver the vision which we hope we all share: of igniting imaginations across a broad range of communities.”

Sheffield Council has been contacted for a comment and further information on the grant funding.