Fleetwood woman, 80, who was only black nurse at Blackpool Vic immortalised in Windrush Generation documentary

A Fleetwood woman who made history as Blackpool Victoria Hospital's first black nurse will have her life story told in classrooms all over the world.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Friday, 7th May 2021, 10:01 am
Alison Bennison, Blackpool Victoria Hospital's first black nurse, who travelled to England from Barbados in 1960

Alison Bennison 80, is a member of the Windrush Generation, having travelled from Barbados to England in 1960 to take up work in an NHS hospital.

Just 19 at the time, she arrived in London completely alone without even a coat to keep her warm, then moved to Lancashire where she trained as a nurse.

Now her story will be used to educate schoolchildren age five and above, as she starred in a documentary, Black British Stories, to be broadcast on the CBBC channel and on the BBC Bitesize learning zone.

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Alison Bennison in her youth, and in later years

Alison's granddaughter Lindsey, 33, said: "Since my grandma had a stroke last year, she has been thinking about what she will leave behind. For her to be able to see her story onscreen while she is still alive is really important. For many people, this kind of tribute only comes after they die, and they don't get to see it. But for her story to appear in a documentary that will be used to educate people across the world, it's like she's leaving a legacy.

"When you're old, often people don't see the person you used to be in your younger years. They just see an elderly person. So ti means a lot to her for her to be featured, as a celebration of what she has achieved."

Lindsey was approached by the BBC about Alison after she was interviewed on ITV News about an exhibition about black modern history at the Carlisle art museum where she works.

"I was working on a project called Black Memories Matter to capture stories of black and brown people living in the area, because archives in museum collections don't really reflect that," she said. "We have a museum with over 5,000 objects, and if they are things that represent black heritage it's either from 2,000 years ago, racism, or misinterpreted. There's nothing that represents people living today for their contributions. That's why the BBC approached me.

Dontay Searle

"Being by herself and having very little, my grandma had to work extremely hard in environments where she was the only black person. But she says she has always had very positive experiences. She was a very popular person with a bubbly personality. She never suffered any discrimination or trouble with anybody for being different."

Also starring in the documentary was nine-year-old St John Vianney Primary School pupil Dontay Searle, who was chosen to interview Lindsey about the Windrush Generation.

Dontay, who lives on Knaresborough Avenue, Blackpool, is a Windrush descendant himself, and has big dreams of being a TV and social media star.

His proud mum Cheryl, 34, said: "Dontay likes to show off, and he's a born performer, so when we got the opportunity for him to audition for the part we couldn't have been happier. He loved every minute of it and he's so excited to see the complete documentary.

Dontay meets Alison and her daughter, Cheryl, in Fleetwood

"It was an educational experience for him as well. Black history is not really taught about in primary schools, though it's becoming more mainstream, and his grandparents were of the Windrush Generation themselves.

"As black parents, a lot of us have to prepare our children that they might face racism at school, so something like this comes at the right time. I think it's a very important thing to teach children about, because racism itself is something that's taught."

She added: "Dontay wants to be a star; this is just the beginning for him and what better way to start it off than with something that's so dear to us?"

Lindsey said: "I think what was really nice about this project was how it featured people from the north, and across the country. These sort of documentaries usually feature people from more diverse areas like Manchester, London and Leeds - places with large afro-Caribbean communities. But I think it's just as important to highlight people in smaller towns, and for them to be included in the conversation.

Alison with her husband, Morton Sidebottom, who was also a Blackpool Vic nurse

"The thing I love the most is that it's a resource for children, and I think that awareness that our differences should be celebrated at such an early age is really crucial for fighting racism and promoting understanding among different people."