Virtual Windrush Generations Festival - Hackney Council

“We have set about establishing a resilient relationship between council and sector, one built on understanding, respect and dialogue. We are able to respond to change, adversity and opportunity with confidence."

In August 2018, the London Borough of Hackney was the first council in the UK to pass a comprehensive motion regarding the Windrush generation. The motion commits the council to actively campaign for an end to all ‘hostile environment’ policy measures that led to the Windrush scandal. It also commits the council to celebrate the contributions of Hackney’s Windrush generation through a programme of events, educational resources and activities, for all ages. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was not possible to have face-to-face, in person celebrations as in previous years. The programme was revised to deliver a virtual festival to ensure residents could continue to participate in this year’s events while remaining safe.

The challenge

Hackney’s Windrush Festival is an intergenerational programme which pays tribute to Hackney residents, young and senior. It draws on the rich content of local Windrush history from the collections of the Hackney Museum and the Hackney Archives Service.

In June 2019, over 3,000 people engaged with the festival. This resulted in a newly built trust with a previously hard to engage audience and it transformed the way the Council engages with older people from ethnically diverse backgrounds. From parades to cricket matches and baking, every event celebrated African-Caribbean culture, with an emphasis on bringing generations together.

A number of issues were identified which could severely restrict the reach of the project in 2020, including uncertainty around schools engagement and continuing to reach digitally excluded communities.

The solution

In March 2020 a Windrush steering group meeting was held with community leaders to assess and prepare a response to the pandemic and consider how best to approach the festival. The council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for Windrush, approved the decision to bring the Windrush 2020 festival online. The Culture Team worked quickly to revise the plans and in place of tea parties and school visits arranged a range of virtual events. These were featured on, a new website created for the council’s Hackney Spirit Campaign during the Coronavirus Crisis and Hackney’s Black History Facebook page. Highlights of the virtual festival included: 

  • Song-writing workshops between young and old, and a live stream music event on National Windrush Day (22nd June). The online Festival was also used as an opportunity to highlight information on how those affected by the issues highlighted by the Windrush scandal could apply for compensation. 
  • The commissioning of two permanent, public artworks by Thomas J Price and Veronica Ryan, two artists of international significance. The public sculptures celebrating and honouring Hackney’s Windrush Generation will be the first permanent public sculptures to do so in the UK.
  • We are Windrush - a storytelling project inviting people of all ages to submit literary recollections of their migration, as well as welcoming tales of identity from the younger generation. Stories were shared at a free online event hosted by authors Colin Grant and Young Poet Laureate Raymond Antrobus.
  • Showcasing migrant history from collections within the Hackney Museum and Hackney Archive catalogues, including films, photographs, and rare audio recordings of interviews with Caribbean migrants who worked for the NHS and TFL. 

Other highlights included sharing recipes from Hackney Council’s Traditional Caribbean Baking Recipes Cookbook, access to a photography project from artist Franklyn Rodgers taken from a 2018 exhibition at Autograph Gallery, and signposting to the 100 Great Black Britons school competition.  

With funding from the Government’s Windrush Day Grant Scheme, the Festival also included a digital grant scheme. These grants supported Hackney community groups to host activities throughout the year.

The impact

There were 1,700 viewers on the Windrush council page and around 3,000 in total, including participants from other platforms that were streaming activities.

Cllr Guy Nicholson, Hackney’s Arts & Culture Lead and Political lead for Planning, Culture and Inclusive Economy said:

“The Arts & Culture sector in Hackney has a long tradition of supporting and engaging communities. Our Arts & Cultural Strategy identifies the range of positive dividends the sector brings to our civic life and our collective wellbeing. It sets out to embrace our values of inclusivity and equality and provides delivery channels for our creative community.

“We have set about establishing a resilient relationship between council and sector, one built on understanding, respect and dialogue. We are able to respond to change, adversity and opportunity with confidence.

“Windrush through both the Festival and the Art Commission, has without doubt demonstrated this confidence in action. A council, the community it serves and the sector itself have set about rebuilding respect, correcting a wrong and ensuring that the Windrush community are celebrated as well as supported by all in Hackney.”  

How is the new approach being sustained?

Through the digital grants scheme the Windrush elders obtained online skills and resources that enable them now to get involved in other online activities offered by the council and their community clubs such as virtual exercise classes, cooking and arts workshops.

Local communities have become more confident in making contributions to other engagement projects such as Hackney Social Radio, a FM radio project developed by Immediate Theatre, Connect Hackney and Hackney Council to serve digitally excluded residents during the pandemic. 

Lessons learned

The development of online activities has required the council to remain flexible in its commissioning and production approach. Having a mix of pre-event activities to produce on demand content, live events online and uploading free educational and interactive resources all contribute towards establishing a vibrant online community offer.

Providing residents with the necessary digital resources and safeguarding procedures to maintain the programmes’ authenticity and co-production values have become essential components in the design of the Council’s future neighbourhood and microgrants programmes. Hackney Council is adopting a similar online approach to other 2020 events including Black History Season, Hackney Carnival and other cultural initiatives.