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Celebrating Reading's Bajan Community

Posted in This months highlight on 16 Oct 2020

In 2003, the town of Reading was twinned with that of Speightstown, Barbados. The relationship between Reading and Barbados more widely, however, goes back further than the 2000’s. By the 1971 census, there were over 600 Barbadians living in Reading, and the area began to be known as being home to the largest Barbadian community outside the Caribbean.

Searching through the Berkshire Record Office catalogue, we have been able to find a special order of service from Reading’s Emmanuel Methodist Church which illustrates this relationship.

This special service was organised as a thanksgiving service for the 30th anniversary of Barbados Independence. It took place at Emmanuel Methodist Church in Reading at 6.30pm on the 1st of December 1996.

The event was attended by Reading Borough Council members as well as those within the Reading Barbadian community. Some names mentioned in the order of service are recognisable as those of current elders of the community, such as Una Chandler.

Una had travelled to England in 1961 from Barbados, and she became the Chaplain at Reading Borough Council. She has also written a book about her life entitled ‘A Long Way from Home’, with a Foreword by Peter Small, another community elder involved in this special service. 

The front page of the order of service includes a black and white print of the Barbados coat of arms. Above the shield and helmet, the arm of a Barbadian holding two crossed pieces of sugar cane sits upon a wreath. The sugar cane symbolises the sugar industry in Barbados, while the saltire cross is a nod to St Andrew’s Day which is also Barbados Independence Day.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Barbados Independence, the Barbados and Friends Association undertook an oral history project and produced a documentary called ‘Our Journey so far... moving from the West Indies to Reading’; an exhibition accompanied it at Reading Museum. You can read more about it online here.

The back page of the order of service contains thanks from the Barbados and Friends Association (Reading area) and a little information about them. The association is still around today, offering support and events for the Barbadian community and all those interested.

Further records about Barbados itself can be found mainly in the ‘Community of the Companions of Jesus the Good Shepherd’ collection here at the BRO, and this includes some watercolour sketches of Bridgetown.

If you are interested in learning more about the Barbados and Friends Association, please take a look at their website.

You can view 'The Enigma of Arrival: The Politics and Poetics of Caribbean Migration to Britain', a travelling virtual exhibition, currently on the Reading Museum website here until 31 October 2020.