By Shirley Thomas
GUYANESE- born Arthur Torrington CBE, a former pupil of St Ambrose Primary School and then a student of Tutorial High School, is among the leading community advocates in the United Kingdom working assiduously to keep alive the history and heritage of Caribbean people who settled there after 1945. They contributed to the rebuilding of the country following the devastation during the war against Germany.
He arrived in Britain as a teenager during the 1960s, and was the first of three black radio broadcasters on a local London station called ‘LBC’ in the 1970s, a time when there was a paucity of black voices on radio. In 1984, he founded the Black Gospel Association (BGA) and helped popularise the genre. The BGA supported local gospel artistes and soon the likes of Mica Paris, a popular singer, were making the successful transition to the world of soul music.
Arthur is a Director and Co-founder of ‘Windrush Foundation’, a registered charity that delivers heritage projects, community programmes and initiatives.
In 1995, Arthur received a phone call from Royal Air Force veteran Sam King to arouse an interest in him in organising the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the ship `Empire Windrush’ at Tilbury Docks, Essex, England. Sam had led the 40th anniversary in Brixton, South London, in 1988 and had wanted the next one to be much bigger. The two set up a charity and then spent the following 18 months seeking to stir the interest of others in their idea, and obtained as much publicity for it as possible. Using their own resources, Arthur and Sam went around the country, gathering together as many people as possible, with stories of the Empire Windrush and what would come to be known as the ‘Windrush Generation’. Arthur handled the publicity while Sam was the one who gave interviews to the British media.
Their goal was to turn the `Empire Windrush’ into an iconic symbol, representing early Caribbean migrants and their contribution to the rebuilding of Britain after WWII. It worked and the 50th anniversary turned out to be a huge success, spawning books and TV and radio documentaries. Sam, who had sailed on the `Empire Windrush’, was among those who met Prince Charles at St James’s Palace for an official ceremony to mark the occasion.
The 70th anniversary celebrations in June 2018 were even more extensive, and included a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey attended by Prime Minister Theresa May. A national ‘Windrush Day’, supported by government funding, is to take place on 22 June every year, encouraging communities across the country to celebrate the arrival of the ship `Empire Windrush’ and the contribution made by Caribbean people to Britain’s prosperity and modernity.
After receiving an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) from the Queen in 2002, Arthur was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2011 for his services to the community, in particular his work for the Windrush Foundation and The Equiano Society.
The Equiano Society, which he co-founded in 1996, is a community organisation that shares research and provides information to the public, especially to those on its database. It was established in London, England to celebrate and publicise the achievements of Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, and his 18th century African contemporaries including: Ignatius Sancho and Ottobah Cugoano, who made outstanding contributions to African and European literature. In 1789 Equiano published a best-selling book, ‘The Interesting Narrative’, which is now listed among the 100 best non-fiction books of all times.