Wales & West Housing Board member recognised for contribution to race equality and inclusion
Congratulations to one of our longest serving Board members Ivor Gittens, who has received a Black History Wales Community Award for his contribution to race equality and inclusion.
Earlier this month (October 2023) Ivor attended the Senedd where MS Jane Hutt presented him with a Race Council Cymru Award.
His award comes after almost 30 years of voluntary service working in his community in South Wales, including membership of the governing Board of Wales & West Housing. Over the years Ivor has been a member of the South Glamorgan Probation Committee and South Wales Police Authority and the Independent Monitoring Board of Parc Prison in Bridgend. He has also given his time as a governor of two schools in Cardiff, including Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown when Betty Campbell, Wales’ first black head teacher was in charge, and Ninian Park Primary School, where he is currently Vice Chair.
Ivor said “I was honoured to be given the award. I don’t know who put me forward, but I was humbled to be among so many inspirational people who are championing race equality across Wales.”
“When I first joined the Board at Wales & West Housing, I wanted to do something different after almost 30 years in the Royal Air Force.
“WWH showed a belief in me when I was appointed Chair and that gave me the belief that I could do things to make a difference for people in other walks of life too.”
Ivor Gittens on his work in the community
It’s the second time that Ivor has been invited to the Senedd this year. In June he spoke at a special event to mark the 75th anniversary of the day MV Empire Windrush arrived in the UK with the first post-war immigrants from the Caribbean.
Ivor shared his experience of coming to the UK as part of the Windrush generation and his story was also featured in a Windrush Cymru exhibition.
This is Ivor’s story in his own words.
“Coming to London was a bit of a shock. It was October 1961, and I wasn’t prepared for the climate.”
WWH Board member Ivor Gittens
When I left my home in Bridgetown, Barbados it was summer. I didn’t see the sun again for another year!!! London was so cold and grey, and the smog was bad. I remember seeing a conductor walking in front of a bus carrying a torch to direct them because you couldn’t see.
I came to England due to what I believe was an arrangement between the UK Government, the Barbados Government and London Transport. I was 23 at the time and working as an electrician in Barbados helping to build the deep-water harbour.
I flew to the UK with a group of workers. Some went to work on the buses, others work on the trains. I was one of a group that came to worked on the London Underground.
I was lucky as London Transport provided me with a uniform and a warm coat as I didn’t have any clothes for winter in the UK.
At first, I lived in a shared house in Tooting Broadway, then I went to lodge with a Jamaican lady who had her own house. In London I met my first wife, who was also from Barbados.
London was busy. It seemed that everyone was in a hurry to go somewhere, they didn’t stop and talk, but I didn’t mind.
One day on my lunch break I went into a careers information office and spoke to a man about joining the Royal Air Force. They arranged for me to take the exam and the following March I joined as a Senior Aircraft Man.
After my basic training I was posted to Cyprus, where my two daughters were born. During my RAF career I was posted to Singapore, West Berlin, and the UK.
I first came to Wales in 1981 to work as an electrical instructor at RAF St Athan and returned after I retired. I met my second wife in Cardiff, and we settled in South Wales.
“I was happy I joined the RAF when I did, it gave me a completely different life and opened lots of opportunities and experiences of different places, people and cultures.”
It shaped me into the person I am today and has allowed me to devote my time volunteering for so many other organisations.”