October is Black History Month – a time of national celebration to honour the achievements and contributions of black people in Britain.
At Network Rail, we're highlighting the importance of diversity and encouraging employees to join in with Black History Month events.
Sharon Salmon, chair of Cultural Fusion, our Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employee network, said: “It’s a time to come to together to celebrate the positive role of Black people in enriching our culture and making our society stronger.”
Cultural Fusion is marking Black History Month with events throughout October, centering on arts, culture, music and science. It's set its own theme for colleagues: evolution of the Black experience – Black history is everyone’s history.
Sharon added: “I am really excited about the events and sessions the leadership team and I have been organising for Black History Month.
“We’ve been working across all of the routes and regions, across our employee networks and collaborated with businesses outside of the railway to organise fun and interesting events with some very special guests.”
Links to Windrush
The railway honours the vital contribution of a diverse workforce, including many people who came to Britain as part of the Windrush generation.
Tracee Grenardo, Network Rail’s Windrush ambassador, said this Windrush Day: “After World War II, the British government were offering jobs in the service sector including running public transport and the National Health Service; many migrants were recruited on the railways. As a company we, too, want to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants.”
In 2022, a monument commemorating the Windrush generation will be unveiled at London Waterloo. The station was a gateway to Britain for many, including the Windrush generation, most of whom arrived in Britain at Southampton.
But finding work was hard for many and met with racism. It came despite the government’s invitation to help bolster the country’s workforce after the war.
In the 1960s, Asquith Xavier was among those fighting for racial equality on the railway.
From the West Indies, Asquith became an ‘accidental campaigner’ when he ended a colour bar at infrastructure operator British Railways to become the first Black train guard at London Euston station in 1966.
Asquith was already an experienced guard at Marylebone station when he applied for the job at Euston and his case is often seen as a precursor to the Race Relations Act in 1968, which made it illegal to refuse employment to people because of their ethnic background. In 2016, the BBC spoke to Asquith’s family as a plaque was unveiled at Euston in his honour.
A plaque in Asquith's honour was unveiled in Chatham, Kent, where he lived, on 24 September in a “proud moment” for his family.
Representatives of Asquith’s family, train operator Southeastern, Network Rail and the RMT trades union attended the occasion.
You can find the plaque, funded by all three organisations, at the waiting room on platform one of Chatham railway station. It reads:
This plaque was unveiled on 24 September 2020
to commemorate former British Rail guard and Chatham resident
18 July 1920 – 18 June 1980
who broke the colour bar at Euston station on 15 August 1966
Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion at Network Rail, said: “This plaque for Asquith Xavier is a fitting tribute to his efforts in overturning the unofficial colour bar in 1966 and becoming the first Black worker employed as a train guard at London Euston station.
“A plaque already exists at Euston station in his memory and I’m delighted that his hometown of Chatham can now remember his achievement.
“Network Rail is fully committed to being a company where each individual is valued, respected and encouraged to reach their full potential. In keeping with his memory, we’re working hard to ensure our workforce better represents our customers and society as a whole.
“We will continue to make the best use of our people’s talent and capabilities to provide real opportunities for their professional development.”
Camaelia Xavier-Chihota, Asquith’s granddaughter, said: “It is a proud moment for our family that Network Rail and Southeastern railway have come together to pay a special commendation to Asquith Xavier in honour of his contribution to our multi-cultural society. We would like to thank all of those involved in facilitating the production of this plaque.”
“It will be a place where we can bring our children to be educated about his pioneering ways and for the general public to learn of a regular man who achieved extraordinary things by speaking out against discriminatory practices, not only for himself but for others.”
Our diversity strategy
Cultural Fusion is an important part of our diversity strategy, helping us reach about 40,000 employees. Sharon says it aims to create an organisation that embraces equality and diversity, in which everybody feels valued and can excel without limitations.
Cultural Fusion’s membership has grown by more than a fifth in the past year to 717 people. It started with just two members in 2013.
Its recent activities have included regular virtual tea breaks for its members, where it encourages discussion about issues such as Black Lives Matter, racism and mental health.