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Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 14:02 UK
Reading's Caribbean connections
By Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire

It may be hard to see the similarities between Barbados and Reading

What is Reading's connnection with its twin town Speightstown in Barbados?

While the Berkshire town cannot boast sand, sea or sun, it does contain the largest Barbadian population outside the Caribbean island itself.

The Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, came to Reading on to October 1 2009 to promote the island as a holiday destination.

He described Reading as a little part of Barbados. But why is a Berkshire town home to so many Barbadians?

The island of Barbados has attracted English settlers since 1625, who profited from sugarcane plantations cultivated by slaves on the island. In 1966 the British Government gave Barbados its independence.


But many Barbadians decided to leave the island in the 1960s to emigrate and find their fortunes in the 'Mother Country': the UK.

The British Nationality Act, 1948, recognised and gave preferential treatment to people who were "citizens of the independent Commonwealth countries", which combined with labour shortages in the UK gave rise to mass immigration from the Caribbean to Britain.

Jobs are advertised for Barbadians
Many Barbadians were attracted to the UK by offers of employment

By the 1971 census, there were a total of 655 Barbadians in Reading. The area now houses the largest Barbadian population outside the Caribbean.

Patricia Cutting came to the UK from Barbados in 1963 with her parents, a nurse and a postman.

She said: "I came to Britain in the 1960s to go to school. My mum did nursing and dad worked as a postman. They started off in London, and they were surprised at the reception they got.

"The people there didn't welcome them.

"They did find it hard to find somewhere to live because people didn't want to rent to them."

Patricia ended up moving to Reading for work in the 1980s and has ended up staying on, although she visits Barbados every year. She has also become a member of the Reading Barbados And Friends Association.

She continues to visit Barbados every year.

BBC Radio Berkshire's Louise Chandler with the Prime Minister of Barbados
BBC Radio Berkshire's Louise Chandler grilled the Barbadian PM during his visit

BBC Berkshire presenter Louise Chandler's parents also moved to Reading in the 1960s. She says she thinks the reason so many Barbadians made their homes in Berkshire was the relative prosperity of the area.

"I think Reading at the time was a place of prosperity where there were plenty of factories and outlets for work: Gillette factory, hospitals, Huntley and Palmers in Reading plus the Mars factory in Slough who were happy to employ Afro-Caribbean workers," she said.


She added: "The other reason was safety - knowing that you could leave your island and be welcomed with housing and a job that was widely available, despite challenging times such as racism and discrimination.

"I think most would agree it was a welcoming place and a chance to live close to friends and family from your home island."

Reading was formally twinned with Speightstown, Barbados at a council meeting on Tuesday 21 January 2003. His Excellency, The High Commissioner for Barbados, Mr Peter Simmons, and the Deputy High Commissioner, Mr Herbert Yearwood attended the ceremony.

Now the Barbadian government is hoping to capitalise on the large numbers of their expats living in the Reading and Berkshire area by launching the Barbados Family and Friends Club (BFF).

The aim of the initiative is to increase visitor arrivals to Barbados by rewarding members who encourage people to travel to Barbados.

Members of the BFF will earn points for each visitor they have referred. Points will be awarded on air travel to Barbados, as well as for accommodation in hotels and guesthouses.

Prime Minister Thompson said: "We wanted to develop a unique initiative which would honour the loyalty and patriotism of Barbadians living all over the world; allowing them to do their part in encouraging visitors to come to Barbados and be rewarded for their efforts.

"Reading has always offered a focal point for Barbadians who came to live in the UK. There is a very strong community here, like a little part of Barbados."

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