Local People: Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE

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Local People: Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE

Collecting Bham_Eunice_small web.jpg

Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE was born in Jamaica, in 1934. She emigrated to England from Jamaica with her family as a young woman in her early 20s, in February 1957. She lived in Handsworth with her family until 1993 and now lives in Stechford.

Eunice experienced many challenges adjusting to her new life. She recalls finding the cold weather a shock!

“in England erm as it gets frosty and the snow get slippery you have to be gently walking and, I thought oh my God [laughs and claps] how am I going to live this out in my mind!”

- Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE, Oral History, 2016.

More challenging was the racial intolerance she had to endure:

“when we came here you know people did not welcome us, the churches did not welcome us, schools did not welcome our children, walking on the streets the shops everywhere, nobody want to speak to us properly and correctly”

- Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave MBE, Oral History, 2016.

She worked as a nurse and later in the Probation Service, but she was also an entrepreneur, running domestic assistance, tailoring, and catering businesses.

Following the ‘Handsworth Riots’ in 1985, Eunice and four other local women founded a charitable community organisation called ‘Shades of Black’, with the intention to ‘reconcile, reassure and rebuild the community’.

In 2001, Eunice was awarded an MBE for her charitable work and has won numerous other awards.

In 2016 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery collected Eunice’s Oral History and some of her belongings, including the suitcase she brought to England, to preserve her story.

Eunice's Full Interview:

You can listen and download Eunice's full oral history on our City Sound Archive website: Listen to Eunice's story.

Eunice's Objects

View the objects she gave to the museum collection in the gallery below (click the image to make it larger):

Activities to try out

For the little ones 

Eunice spent much of her life teaching children how to grow vegetables through her community allotment. Plant vegetables such as tomatoes or lettuce which can be grown easily on a windowsill.

Show your class different the vegetables from around the world. Eunice would have been used to eating different vegetables, such as breadfruit and callaloo, in Jamacia that she might not have been able to find in England in the 1950s.


Hot seat: place yourself in someone else’s shoes by taking it in turns to imagine being Eunice. Work in small groups to roleplay being Eunice and her interviewer asking questions about her life.

Young Adults

Research the ‘Handsworth riots’ that took place in September 1985 which motivated Eunice to begin her charitable work. You could investigate -

  • The events leading up to the riots and why they began.
  • What happened during the riots?
  • The impact they had on the local area
  • Artists who were inspired by the riots such as Pogus Caesar and John Akomfrah

Eunice’s personal collection is now in a museum, helping visitors to understand her story. Curate your own small collection of personal objects to represent you: how do your possessions show people your interests, background and beliefs?

Pick 5 objects and create a museum display with labels: this could be a virtual dis-play on PowerPoint or a physical display at school.

More Information

Check out more information here: