Paulette Wilson: Crowds gather at funeral of Shropshire-raised 'Windrush champion'
Hundreds of mourners gathered to pay their respects to 'Windrush champion' Paulette Wilson at her funeral today.
Paulette, who was raised in Shropshire after coming to Britain as a child, died in July at the age of 64.
Her funeral was held at New Testament Church in Wolverhampton before a burial at Danescourt Cemetery in the city. Nearly £18,000 was raised to help the service go ahead.
Friends, family and members of the community – who were urged to practice social distancing – gathered outside the church where Paulette's coffin arrived in a white carriage pulled by horses wearing Jamaican-coloured feathers. The Uzani Drummers played as her coffin was carried inside.
A celebrated activist who was wrongly detained and threatened with deportation by the Home Office, Paulette died unexpectedly on July 23, just a month after delivering a petition to Downing Street to call on the government to deliver justice to those affected by the Windrush scandal.
In 1968 she had arrived in Telford from Jamaica as a 10-year-old girl, before making her home in Heath Town, Wolverhampton.
On entering the church, Reverend Dr Carter Anderson called out to the crowds: "As we enter here today in Wolverhampton, for our empress, the Windrush champion we call her, she will never be forgotten. As we take her body in, please give her some noise."
His words were met with cheering, clapping and singing – as close family members, including daughter Natalie Barnes, entered the church. Due to Covid restrictions, only a limited number of people could be inside at once, meaning the crowds waited outside.
A burial was held after the funeral – her family, as is Jamaican tradition, wanted to fill the grave themselves but were told this could not go ahead due to coronavirus. Her brother Trevor Wright wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to plead the family's case, even recruiting Wolverhampton North East MP Jane Stevenson to help.
Paulette was most known in the city for the Paulette Wilson Windrush Citizenship Project, which was launched in 2018 to provide specialist advice and support to help local members of the Windrush generation gain their rightful citizenship.
Thousands of people who came from the Commonwealth to the UK after the Nationality Act 1948 and before the 1971 Immigration Act were given the right of indefinite leave to remain, including around 3,000 people living in Wolverhampton.
However, a series of cases arose involving individuals who had been long-term residents of the UK but did not have documents to prove their status. As a result, they were incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants by the Home Office and put at risk of deportation.
Paulette was a former cook at the House of Commons. Her case was raised in Parliament after she was detained at Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre and threatened with deportation.
The Government subsequently confirmed that anyone from the Windrush generation could become a British citizen and the Paulette Wilson Windrush Citizenship Project supported numerous local people to apply for British citizenship.
Councillor Ian Brookfield, leader of Wolverhampton Council, said: “Paulette Wilson was an inspiration to so many people and fought incredibly hard on behalf of fellow members of the Windrush generation who were caught up in the same dreadful situation she found herself in.
"As a council we were proud to be able to work with Paulette, her family and the Refugee and Migrant Centre to help support local residents to gain their rightful British citizenship. She will be much missed by everyone who knew her but her legacy will live on in the profound way that she helped to change so many people's lives for the better.
Speaking at the project's launch, Paulette said she was "proud" to support its aims. She said: “I believe that there are many people out there who feel vulnerable to the threat of deportation, loss of employment and who are not able to access healthcare due to not having proof of their rightful citizenship. They don’t need to suffer in silence as advice and practical support will be offered to those who need help.”
Paulette leaves behind her daughter Natalie Barnes, her granddaughter Shaurnt'a Valentine, five brothers, four sisters and a godson.
Any money remaining after the funeral, from the fundraiser, will be put towards a memorial in Wolverhampton in honour of Paulette.
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