“Settle in Britain but don’t settle your ambitions” - Beverley’s story
Beverley Dowdell is a retired nurse living in Southampton. She is also the Chair of the Black Heritage Association and a community partner of Solent NHS Trust. Solent community partners play an important role in terms of the work we do. They work alongside us and offer advice about shaping our services, act as critical friends and they help us to disseminate our key messages within the community. Read about what Black History Month means to her, her passion for the Black Heritage Association, and how her experiences as a black nurse in the 1970s shaped and strengthened her to be the influential woman she is today.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
“I feel it is a way of remembering and recognising the part black people have played in society and our community. We should not be ignored because we have made, and continue to make, a valuable contribution,” Beverley said.
“I am Jamaican born and I came to Britain in 1971 to do a post-graduate course in intensive care nursing. My intention was never to stay in Britain permanently. I originally wanted to gain my qualification, work a while and go back home to Jamaica. Whilst I was here, I met a man and got married. However, because he was white, he wouldn’t have been allowed to work back home. At that time in Jamaica, you couldn’t bring your white husband over to work, but a black man could bring his white wife, it’s just the way it was.
“When I first arrived in this country, I found out two things - the weather was cold and that some people were unfriendly, unwelcoming and even a little hostile. I encountered prejudice from my manager, right down to the nurses I worked with, and even a couple of patients. I’ll never forget when I first landed here, I met with my senior nursing officer. She asked me ‘how much money did you bring with you as so many of you people come with no intention of going back?’ This threw me a little.
“Despite all the prejudice, I enjoyed my nursing career and looking after people. I am the eldest of twelve, so the rule back home was that I had to look after everyone including my brothers and that’s what drove me to be a nurse in the first place.”
Beverley explains about how she became involved with the Black Heritage Association
“In the late 90s, I had a call from a Jamaican health visitor who was looking for people to help with organisations, including the Black Heritage Association. I told her that I worked full time with a demanding role, but that I would be prepared to help where I could. I attend a few Annual General Meetings, and then in 2002, I was elected to be the Chair. One of the original objectives of the group was to support the older members of the African and Caribbean community to get out and stop them from being at risk of isolation. We meet, support and encourage members of the community to play board games and chat. We also cook, and we’ve written plays and poetry about our history and rich heritage. We’ve even made a CD featuring old Jamaican folk songs. Singing can be one of our coping strategies as black people. When I am focusing, I am always humming a tune. When the guys are playing Dominos, you’d think they were arguing with each other with the joshing and the noise they make but they’re just having fun.
“Since Covid-19 hit everything has shut down. We’ve also lost a few members, not necessarily to Covid-19, but because we are also of a certain age. I am hoping that after Covid-19 passes we can start meeting again properly as it’s a great venue for people to meet and talk. It’s the only organisation of its kind in Southampton. We want to attract younger members to the group. It’s a two-way street as they will learn from us, but we will also learn from them. Although our name mentions Black Heritage, we very much welcome anyone else who wanted to join from different backgrounds and cultures. We are not a closed group.”
Beverley leaves this advice for any nurse beginning their career but especially for nurses from BAME backgrounds.
“Go for it! Enjoy it! Nursing is rewarding. I encourage you to be ambitious. Sometimes nurses from BAME backgrounds will just settle for a role or band, but don’t settle. Don’t settle whatever you do, or whatever your story. If you think you can do better, then strive to do more. I came as a humble staff nurse and I had to take the first rejection, you’ll face that. However, later I became a nursing officer in charge of my own department. You need to build armour and coping skills that will work for you. Learn and do what you can. Leave positive footprints, be pleasant, be kind and be generous in humanity and those traits will stand you in good stead.
“I served the NHS and the NHS served me well.”