From the Caribbean to the NHS

The Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion from Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber Foundation Trust marks Windrush Day and the 71st anniversary of the Empire Windrush cruise liner arriving with the first Caribbean migrants to the UK. Some of the arrivals were the first to join the NHS and today people of BME backgrounds make up almost a quarter of the NHS workforce: 

I am one of the proud people of a black and minority ethnic (BME) background that make up around 25% of the NHS workforce.

Like many others, my journey to the NHS did not start with my first job, but by those who went before me. I am a proud descendant of the Windrush generation.

My mother Ida left the sunshine of St Elizabeth, Jamaica for England at the age of six in 1957 with my grandparents Ruby and Percival and settled in Sheffield, where my grandmother had family. My grandfather found work in construction, as bus conductor and in a transport garage.

My grandmother worked in the NHS in the 1950s and 60s, first at Middlewood mental health hospital, where she used to sneak sweets for the patients, and then the Northern General Hospital. It was not easy living in Sheffield; as was common in those days, they shared accommodation with other Caribbean migrants but finally bought their own home and my mum was educated at good sought-after schools.

My mother wanted to join the NHS as an administrator but the only way she could back then was as a domestic assistant. She did well and progressed to become a nursing auxiliary, then a clerk in emergency services at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Her final job in the NHS was as a clerical officer in the Mobility and Specialised Rehabilitation Centre at the Northern General Hospital.  She later retired in 2004 due to ill health.

My mother enjoyed working in the NHS and she was passionate about caring for patients. She is a wonderful woman and made many friends along the way.  Employment was not without its problems as she experienced racial discrimination and incivilities due to the colour of her skin. This did not phase her and she remained loyal to the NHS.

My dad Llewellyn moved to England from Kingston, Jamaica in May 1966 aged 16 with his two younger sisters and mother. His father had gone ahead like many men did at that time. My dad started working as an apprentice engineer, had other jobs but then joined the NHS as a bank nursing auxiliary.

As a training army combat technician, he gained experience working on military wards and decided to train as a nurse and qualified as a mature nurse in the year 2000. My dad was a dedicated nurse and went the extra mile for the patients he cared for.

Other members of my family have also worked in the NHS. My great Aunty May, who also came to England in 1966, worked at the Nether Edge Maternity Hospital and Jessops Hospital for women and remained there until retirement. My dad’s eldest sister, Olive, known to me as Aunty Lynn, trained as an enrolled nurse and worked at Lodge Moor Hospital.  She struggled working on the infected baby wards and left to work at Weston Park Hospital where she worked a nursing auxiliary looking after cancer patients. My “baby” cousin Vanessa followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and qualified as a physiotherapist now working in the community.

So, how did I come to work in the NHS? In 1992 I was in the private sector in Retford for a month before my mum saw an internal advert for a job as a clerical officer working in education and training at the Northern General Hospital. I attended the interview wearing one of my mum’s dresses and got the job.

I was an ambitious and determined 21-year-old and quickly progressed, grasping at every opportunity that I could. I did my master’s degree and worked my way up to a middle management role working as an equality and diversity training manager. I loved working for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals but wanted to progress up to senior management. Due to budget cuts this did not happen so I took voluntary redundancy in 2007 and set up my consultancy Golding Diversity Training.  It was difficult running a business with a two-year-old, so I decided to return to the NHS in 2013 working in human resources and then organisational development.

What I love about the NHS is working with people who give their all to deliver excellent patient care. I have met some inspirational people along the way. My personal experiences have not always been inclusive but I have worked through them due to resilience and support from colleagues and my wonderful family.

My passion is equality, diversity and inclusion and I am working hard in the NHS to ensure that it is ingrained into the core of the services and employment practices we provide, so our patients receive the inclusive care and staff have the best employment experiences.

I am proud to follow in the footsteps of my marvellous family and, as my dad would say: “Carry on the legacy.”

Virginia Golding is the head of equality, diversity and inclusion at Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust.
She joined the NHS in 1992 as a clerical officer and progressed to become the equality and diversity lead at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

In 2007 she took voluntary redundancy and set up her consultancy Golding Diversity Training. She returned to the NHS in 2013.
Virginia is an active member of the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) frontline staff forum and a member of the NHS Confederations BME Leaders Network.
She has a master’s degree in Human Resource Management and a postgraduate certificate in diversity management.