From Jamaica to Birmingham

Millicent Gobbinsingh, 66, of Newtown, Birmingham, tells us more about her experiences of coming to England, and about taking part in the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme.


Millie was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. When her parents decided to seek a better future for the family, they left the Caribbean island for Britain.

Millie was 13 when she joined them in Birmingham. Speaking of her experience she says it was difficult, and “bloody cold!” She started school in September that year and in the first week the head master called her parents in following an incident. It had been snowing all day, and Millie, not owning a proper coat to defend against the British weather, had been hiding under a number of coats in the cloakroom, refusing to go outdoors. “I’m not going out there!” she had shouted.

Asking how she felt about moving to the UK, she says she had been excited and was looking forward to it, but didn’t know what to expect. In Jamaica, people thought, “this is nice, but Britain will be better. They have good houses.” Mille hadn’t seen terraced houses before she came here.

While her parents worked in the factories, Millie got a job with an engineering firm on Barr Street. She was about 18 when she started doing their accounts, and from then on she always worked in finance, bookkeeping and then buying. It was a steep learning curve. “All the jobs I’ve ever had have been good jobs,” she says. 

She has always taken an active role in her community, doing voluntary and charitable work within Lozells, Handsworth and the surrounding area for many years and still is.

Millie, how did you get involved with the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme?
It was Kathleen from the Ageing Better Carers Hub who approached me during a visit to Pannel Croft, a retirement village in the north of Birmingham. We talked about the programme, and about how having been a carer, my experiences of loneliness might help support other people in Birmingham. Kathleen suggested that I apply to become a member of the Age of Experience co-production group.

What were your expectations of getting involved?
I thought if I started a group to help isolated people in the community, the city wouldn’t be able to help with funding. Kathleen told me I could apply to the Ageing Better Fund, which was offering to cover expenses of up to £2,000 for citizen groups.

I had been attending an African Caribbean reading group at the Aston Library with a couple of friends, and so the idea came to me to start one at Pannel Croft Village. It was a way of getting people to start taking an interest in reading and help reduce isolation for people here. It really sparked an interest both from friends at Pannel Croft and also outside the village.
The books we read are often written by black authors, and it is an inspiration not only to know that there are books written by black writers, but also that we are all writers in our own right if we just put pen to paper.

You see, I’m from a culture where traditionally, storytelling is done by word of mouth. People share their histories and tell stories of times gone by. That tradition has been lost by the Windrush generation. There’s this gap; lots of information was lost because people didn’t continue the tradition of talking about their lives.

Getting together with members of the reading group has helped keep me busy and given me the chance to share stories with people around me. As a group we don’t always talk about a specific book - it’s a bit more flexible than that. Some members have reading difficulties, or their sight isn’t very good. Those who can read, read, but we also talk about what’s on TV, or what’s going on with family and friends.

"We’re a mixed group and the subjects vary. Sometimes we don’t get around to talking about the book at all! It’s about companionship, nurturing relationships, and having friends around."

 To find out about what's going on in our big friendly city, and to find an opportunity to meet new people, or learn new skills, head over to our events page: https://www.ageingbetterinbirmingham.co.uk/events 

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