Blackpool’s first known black nurse Alison Bennison was one of tens of thousands of people from the Caribbean islands who became known as “the Windrush generation”.
The SS Ormonde had docked in Liverpool in 1947 with 108 Jamaican islanders but it was the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex that became emblematic of the first migrants’ arrival thanks to this Pathe newsreel (45 secs). That day, 22 June 1948, is now known as Windrush Day.
Aged 19, Alison travelled from Barbados in 1960 to work like many migrants did in the NHS. She arrived in London and after stints nursing in Bristol and Wales, settled in Blackpool.
Alison first worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital where she met her first husband Morton Sidebottom who had been a nurse in the RAF. She lived in Cleveleys and later Bristol Avenue, Fleetwood.
Speaking in 2021, granddaughter Lindsey Atkinson, said: “Being by herself and having very little, my grandma had to work extremely hard in environments where she was the only black person. But she says she has always had very positive experiences. She was a very popular person with a bubbly personality.”
Alison’s story was captured in a BBC Teach film made shortly before she died in March 2022, aged 80. The story is told by Lindsey and nine-year-old Blackpool schoolboy Dontay Searle. In the film, Lindsey shows him family photographs which are stored in the same suitcase Alison travelled with from Barbados.
Reflecting on her late grandma’s life today, Lindsey said: “Grandma was incredibly proud of being a nurse. Apart from raising her children, she gave her life to it.”