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Blue plaque for inspirational nurse from Windrush generation

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An inspirational nurse and midwife who became the first person of African heritage to be appointed head matron at an NHS hospital is to be honoured with a blue plaque.

Daphne Steele, who was originally from Guyana, was among the Windrush generation of nurses who emigrated to work in the UK.

“On becoming Britain’s first Black matron she set new goals for her fellow Windrush nurses”

Thelma Lewis

In 1945, aged 16, she started training as a nurse and midwife at a public hospital Guyana’s capital Georgetown before coming to the UK in 1951 to embark on a fast-track training programme at St James’ Hospital in Balham, South London.

She went on to work as a nurse in the US before returning to England and the NHS in Oxfordshire and then Manchester, where she became a deputy matron of a nursing home – also considered to be a first at the time.

In 1964, she successfully applied for the role of head matron at St Winifred’s Hospital in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, leading the way for generations of BME nurses to come.

Her achievements are now to be recognised with a commemorative blue plaque at the former site of St James’ Hospital where she trained.

“As a nursing pioneer, it is right and befitting that she is memorialised with a blue plaque”

Jak Buela

The tribute has been organised by charity the Nubian Jak Community Trust, which works to highlight the historic contribution of BME people in Britain, in partnership with the Association of Guyanese Nurses and Allied Professionals (AGNAP) and the London and Quadrant Housing Association.

The plaque will be unveiled on October 16 – the 91st anniversary of the birth of Ms Steele, who died in 2004.

Thelma Lewis, president of AGNAP, said Ms Steele, who was vice president of the organisation, was a true inspiration.

“Daphne knew only love – love for the profession in which she spent her entire life and to which she gave so much,” she said.

Daphne Steele

Daphne Steele

Daphne Steele

“On becoming Britain’s first Black matron she set new goals for her fellow Windrush nurses and those who followed,” noted Ms Lewis.

Others who paid tribute to Ms Steele included Nola Ishmael, former deputy director of nursing at the Department of Health and the first Black director of nursing in London.

“Daphne led with dignity and determination,” she said. “She helped to shape aspirations for BME nurses across the profession who sought to follow in her footsteps.”

Jak Beula, chief executive of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, described Ms Steele as “decades ahead of her time”.

“As a nursing pioneer, it is right and befitting that she is memorialised with a blue plaque and given the national recognition she deserves as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations commemorating the birth of the NHS,” he added.

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