It seems as though Barbadian born Grantley Yearwood can achieve anything he sets his mind to. Over a span of 53 years in England, he has been a tutor, engineer, magistrate, youth worker, director, union representative, mentor and training officer.
Born at Coles Cave, St. Lucy and raised in Eagle Hall, St. Michael, Yearwood and his sister Glendene arrived in Hammersmith, West London when he was just eight years old. He was fine with the move and found that even though at primary school “there were only a few black children, it was ok.” Secondary school was another matter though. The one he attended – Christopher Wren Secondary – was also where the roughest boys in the neighbourhood went, so it became necessary to fight your way out sometimes. “It brought out some of my more challenging behaviours,” he laughed.
That was a far cry from a man who in the future would spend many years guiding youths.
How was it that Yearwood ended up being involved in so many different areas?
“Well, you always kind of have a plan to fall into your father’s footsteps; I used to go to work with him during the holidays,” he answered. His dad was an engineer with British Rail, so when the time came to make a choice, Yearwood opted for an apprenticeship in that field.
British Leyland was the first establishment where he applied and was successful. After that, Yearwood remembered that “you would go to an interview, wait for a long time, and eventually someone would come out and say the job was already gone. On the way out, you would meet other white men coming in to be interviewed for the same position. Other times employees would complain to management about blacks being in the waiting area to be interviewed, eliminating any chance of getting the job.”
He was just 16 when he started at British Leyland and was the only West Indian among seven Asian and eight White apprentices, who were new as well. On his return from lunch on his first day, Yearwood saw the words “eight n**gers” written on the notice board. When he demanded that the person who had written it stand, no one moved. The following year he became the Apprenticeship Union Representative.
At 19, he moved on to British Airways as an apprentice sheet metal worker. He maintained his circle of friends from secondary school and they “did everything together; played football, squash and went to parties.” Back then, his love for partying used to take him to Barbados sometimes as often as every six weeks; “I would leave on Friday evenings, go to After Dark and come back on Monday nights, to go to work Tuesday mornings.” For the past 40 years, he has been returning to Barbados regularly.
Yearwood was out driving with those same friends years later when they saw a white driver come out onto a main road and knock a Rastafarian off his push bike. “Like good Samaritans, we called the police.” The injustice he witnessed next made Yearwood decide to become a magistrate. “Instead of the policeman dealing with the driver, he put the push bike and the Rastafarian in the back of the police vehicle and told the white guy to go. So I felt there needed to be some equity in the justice system.” Incidentally, he remembered the only criticism he faced during his tenure came from a black woman, who questioned why he wore cornrow and a pigtail while he was on the bench.
Although a law degree is not required to be a magistrate in England, Yearwood holds a Social-Legal Diploma with a focus on Law in the Community and completed a course in Defenders and the Law. He also underwent continuous training relative to new laws and legal changes.
For 35 years, youth and community work has played a major role in Yearwood’s life. He began volunteering to work with young people at a North West London Community Club, assisting them with career choices and mentoring but that mushroomed into so much more. “It was a youth club during the day and a club for older people at night. They gathered to play dominoes, cook, or just listen to music.”
With a football manager qualification in hand, Yearwood went on to work with youths in North London, during which time he qualified as a football coach and managed a local football team. He later moved on to youth projects in West London where his role was not restricted to sporting activities only, but involved discussing the issues his charges faced, plus teaching them about gender equality and debating skills, while trying to instill in them a sense of community.
Fortunately, Chelsea and Fulham Football Clubs were nearby, and they assisted with football training. As much as he enjoyed working in West London, the two hour drive to and from was becoming taxing so when he was asked to work for Southville Youth Club, Yearwood chose to do so and work closer to his home in Feltham.
His stint as a lecturer started when Brunel University offered him the chance to train adults within the community “who may never have gotten their qualifications to go on to University otherwise.” Armed with a Masters in Youth and Community Development, he lectured in Youth and Community Work.
Assessing his various roles over the years, 61-year-old Yearwood believes “all my jobs were equally good. At British Airways, it was hands on, and it paid the bills; youth work was a hobby, but it paid me and at the lower courts, I thought I was making a difference to the way blacks were treated. I felt there needed to be understanding,” Yearwood expressed.
In 2018, he retired from the bench and from British Airways as a technician and a senior union representative. With several of his ‘hats’ now removed, the retiree is still a Justice of the Peace and spends time chairing a credit union committee, doing charitable work, some mentoring, gardening and spending time with wife Susan and twins Chantelle and Anton. And that’s in between returning to Barbados every two or three months.
In 2019, Yearwood was awarded a Member of the British Empire – MBE- for his contribution to West London; it was presented to him by the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, at Buckingham Palace. “I feel pretty good that people who I work with recognised what I do,” the Barbadian commented.
Yearwood concluded that “life in England has been enjoyable.” (PR)
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