THE JAMAICA SOCIETY AND FRIENDS READING By ANNETTE LEVY

In Jamaica, I grew up in community where people helped each other. As a young person, I was always empathetic. I wanted to help the people around me whether they were younger or older. As a child growing up on a family farm with my Grandmother and cousins I would help with chores on the farm.

I arrived in England with my mum Myrtle Thompson in 1964. My Mum was a business woman in Jamaica; she was a kind and very resourceful woman, who opened the first West Indian Cafe in Handsworth Birmingham in 1965. It was born out of the need for safe spaces as demand for respite from the hostile racist environment, which the African Caribbean community faced on a daily basis. Hence giving them an opportunity to have West Indian cooked meals, socialise, and read the newspapers. It also catered for the youth too. It was here I acquired my customer service and catering skills. My mum was an Events Manager who organised seaside summer trips and entertained guests with dominoes, music, good food, giving them a taste of Jamaica.

The backdrop of 1960’s Britain was that Black children faced systemic racism and the supplementary school movement began. During this period it was very hard for our community to find safe spaces for our children to go to without the threat of racial violence. They also received second rate service from the education system. Initially, the local Council were quite obtrusive and would not offer us any community spaces to hold a Saturday School. So, the elders of the community arranged with the local church to hire their hall.

I volunteered at Saturday School by helping the children with their school work, and I found it to be very rewarding. The extra lessons made such a big difference because within a short space of time they grew in confidence, especially when they discovered they were able to help the other children that sat next to them. Through peer tutoring, our community was able to help our primary school children catch up with their school work, which they had been struggling with at school due to lack of support and systemic unconscious (or at times conscious) bias. What we did in Birmingham had a real impact on Black children as it not only improved confidence, they were able to attain higher grades and improve their career opportunities. This model started the Supplementary School Movement in the UK.

After leaving school in the late 1960’s I enrolled at Handsworth College and completed a one year Secretarial Course. After the course finished, I continued to help the children until I moved to Reading in 1969.

In Reading, I applied for administration jobs and was successful in that field. Over the years I continued to work for various companies in administration including engineering and advertising firms as well as in banking and Local Authority.

However, I was always interested in working in the community to giving back to it. In 2004, I was invited by a friend to attend a meeting at the Church of God of Prophecy on the Oxford Road, Reading, where a new Community group called the Jamaica Society Reading was holding their meetings. I attended a meeting and found it to be interesting and informative, as the group was affiliated to the Jamaican Diaspora UK and they were working with the Jamaican High Commission in London. It was the start of my involvement in the Jamaica Society.

In 2005 I was nominated by the Chair and elected as Secretary to the Jamaica Society and remained in the position for 13 years. Over the years I became an integral part of establishing the organisation in Reading, carrying out the registration with Reading Borough Council, liaising with the Jamaican High Commission, organising and implementing the group’s administration processes and procedures and arranging events. In 2013 The Jamaica Society name was changed to The Jamaica Society and Friends Reading.

The Jamaica Society and Friends Reading is a community group that supports people of Jamaican heritage, their families, friends and associates and links them to the Jamaican Diaspora. The Jamaican Diaspora comes together to celebrate the success of Jamaican’s in Jamaica and abroad.

The Society strives to address the issues that affect Jamaican’s and the wider community. We continue to focus on inspiring young and older people to get involved in cultural and community activities.

For young people we put on performance workshops run by teachers from Jamaica helping to build their confidence and personal development. We also formed a cultural folk group called the Caribbean Serenaders that I am a member of and we perform at community events and for care home residents.

We also have a Quadrille dance workshop as many of our older members have an interest in dancing.

We also have seminars and workshops on health and other issues relevant to well-being, also giving updates and feedback from Jamaica Diaspora conferences, as well as an annual Summer Ball to celebrate Jamaica’s Independence in August (cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and Black History Month Event in October. In 2020 we opted for a virtual Black History Month Event, which was very well attended by our members and friends. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we cannot have our monthly meetings in person so we do virtual monthly meetings via Zoom.

The Jamaica Society and Friends Reading also work together with other community groups such as the Caribbean Associations Group (which consists of the Barbadian and Friends Association and The St Vincent & The Grenadines and Friends Association), The Basingstoke Caribbean Society and The Globe Lunch Club to put on events for our community.

Our most recent collaborative event was Reading’s first Thanksgiving Service celebrating the contributions of the Windrush Generation of Reading. The service was held at the Tyndale Baptist Church in Reading on 12 October 2019, this event was co-ordinated by Constance Gooding – Co-ordinator of the Globe Lunch Club and I. This was my proudest moment as Chair of the Jamaica Society and Friends to be able to show my appreciation and gratitude to The Windrush Generation because they paved the way for us.

I would like to thank the Jamaica Society officers and members and my family for their continued support and contributions to enable the Society to thrive. It would be remiss of me not to mention the previous chairs Shirley Graham – Paul, Cherry Fletcher, Mel Roomes and Grace Powell who laid solid foundations for me to follow. The aim of the Jamaica Society and Friends Reading is to continue to grow and serve our community for future generations.